Leon Brittan, Special Branch and the creation of a surveillance statePosted: January 25, 2015
An article in today’s Mirror by Don Hale, former journalist and confidante of the late Labour politician Barbara Castle, claims that Leon Brittan, when Home Secretary, treated Special Branch as his own personal ‘Gestapo’, which would monitor fellow MPs, according to Castle’s own account (Don Hale, ‘Leon Brittan: Ex-Labour MP Barbara Castle said former Home Secretary was man ‘she could not trust”, Mirror, January 24th, 2015). Castle claimed Brittan was the ‘last person you would want to give a file of the nature [the dossier given to Brittan by Geoffrey Dickens] to’; Hale himself said that files on sexual abusers at Westminster given to him by Castle, when he was editor of the Bury Messenger, were seized by Special Branch operatives and police in September 1984; this would have been three months after the rash of newspaper stories alluding to child abuse allegations against a cabinet minister, who was revealed to be Brittan, though the stories were deemed false by all the journalists who reported them. Hale’s article also includes the remarkable new claim that Castle had told of a second internal inquiry by Brittan to find out who knew about allegations of child sexual abuse, and that she came across a range of papers which ‘had Leon Brittan’s fingerprints all over them’, relating to people involved in meetings to speak about support for PIE, funding opportunities, and so on, including details of wealthy backers and subscribers to Magpie magazine; there were also allegations against friends and political associates of Brittan, including Rhodes Boyson, who was identified as a speaker and fundraise for PIE.
These claims are quite incredible. I wanted to look back on reports specifically on Special Branch during Brittan’s tenure at the Home Office (from June 11th, 1983 to September 2nd, 1985). Brittan appears to have used the occasion of an IRA bomb which exploded in Harrods in December 1983 as a justification for scaling up police anti-terrorist operations, including Special Branch. In early 1984, Special Branch used heavy-handed methods to remove a wide range of documents from the journalist Duncan Campbell, who had written about intelligence operations, police surveillance, and more, whilst Brittan pushed a new Police Bill through Parliament at a time of allegations that the RUC Special Branch were involved in criminal conspiracies. Special Branch gained a higher profile as they became involved with deportation of Libyans and a time of maximum hostility between the UK government and the regime of Muammar al-Gaddafi, following the siege of the Libyan Embassy in London in April 1984, in which a police officer, Yvonne Fletcher, was shot dead by Libyan agents, and later also with deportation of Syrian citizens said to have connections with the Palestine Liberation Organisation. At the time of the Brighton Bombing in October 1984, which event provided the primary pretext for a scaling up of intelligence and surveillance operations, it was revealed that Margaret Thatcher was personally guarded by three Special Branch officers. After this, Special Branch’s activities were backed up by a new Home Office liaison committee, anticipating their merging with the Anti-Terrorism branch of the Metropolitan Police in 2006. But soon afterwards, a Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry was set up into Special Branch’s activities following the revelation that they had visited a woman who had written to a newspaper opposing cruise missiles (which sounds very similar to the visit described by Don Hale). As Special Branch became a deeper part of a surveillance state, Brittan was forced to deny in Parliament in late 1984 that they had been involved in tapping the phones of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, after claims to that effect by chair (later Labour MP) Joan Ruddock, but the revelations on the Channel 4 programme 20/20 Vision by former MI5 officer Cathy Massiter gave a different picture of the intelligence services’ infiltration of this group. Prior to this broadcast, during the course of the inquiry, Brittan published Special Branch guidelines which made clear that monitoring trade unionists (counted amongst ‘subversives’) was within their remit (this was extremely potent as the guidelines were published while the miners’ strike was ongoing). A combination of industrial strife, IRA bombings and an increased profile for CND were all being used by Brittan as reasons for beefing up the role of Special Branch; this would have been more than a little convenient if he wanted them to act to protect high-level abusers of children as well. This hardly inspired confidence when it became clear that Special Branch were involved in the investigation of the murder of 78-year old anti-nuclear activist Hilda Murrell, allegedly at the hands of intelligence officers (see also Nick Davies, ‘The mysterious death of Hilda Murrell’, The Guardian, March 1994). When the interview with Massiter was finally broadcast in March 1985, it became clear that not only CND, but a wider range of trade unionists, journalist, lawyers and others, with Brittan himself having personally authorised the tapping of John Cox, vice-chair of CND and Communist Party member; furthermore, a Ronnie White appeared in the programme to detail how he had infiltrated the National Front at the behest of Special Branch, which involved him becoming directly involved in violent assaults upon black citizens. The report of the inquiry was widely thought to be something of a whitewash, with several Labour members of the committee wishing to distance themselves from it, claiming that it was flawed because they had not been allowed to interview various key officials.
There is no doubt that Special Branch did gain significant new powers and authority whilst Leon Brittan was Home Secretary, and as such Barbara Castle’s alleged claims about his relationship to the organisation are perfectly plausible.
I do not rule out the possibility, as argued by Paul Foot and more recently by Guy Adams, that the claims about Brittan having himself been an abuser were part of a dirty tricks campaign. But if so, would this campaign not be a prima facie case of ‘to undermine or overthrow parliamentary democracy’ as presented in January 1985 by Brittan himself to the Home Affairs Select Committee? After the June 1984 allegations were published, what were Special Branch doing to investigate this type of plot?
Furthermore, as there were clear revelations of the intelligence services infiltrating the National Council of Civil Liberties and in particular their General Secretary Patricia Hewitt and legal officer Harriet Harman, what did they find concerning this organisation and individual’s relationship to the Paedophile Information Exchange? All of this information should be placed in front of the national inquiry.
Cathy Massiter was never prosecuted, despite her revelations following close on the heels of the (unsuccessful) prosecution of Ministry of Defence civil servant Clive Ponting for passing information to Labour MP Tam Dalyell concerning the sinking of the Belgrano during the Falklands’ War. In 2001, Richard Norton-Taylor pointed out that Massiter’s claims had never been disproved (Richard Norton-Taylor, ‘Truth, but not the whole truth’, The Guardian, September 11th, 2001 – the date of this article indicates why it would have been mostly overlooked at the time). Why did Brittan and the government not prosecute Massiter, considering how damaging her revelations were? Is it possible that she might have found out other, more fatally damaging, information about the government, Westminster, and/or Brittan himself, which might come out in the event of her prosecution?
United Press International, December 19th, 1983
Britain today ordered 700 extra police on the streets and a 24-hour bomb watch following the Irish terrorist bombing of Harrods department store that killed five people and wounded 91, most of them Christmas shoppers.
Earlier, a businessman offered a $375,000 reward for information leading to capture and conviction of the bombers.
Home Secretary Leon Brittan, in a grim statement to Parliament, announced the capital’s toughest anti-terrorist operation ever and denounced the outlawed Irish Republican Army’s attempt to disclaim responsibility for Saturday’s car bombing as ”utterly contemptible.”
”What has happened is that the IRA has found that the action taken by its members has caused universal revulsion and condemnation,” he said. ”It is a piece of nauseating hypocrisy for them now to try and disown it and to claim that some kinds of brutal murder are legitimate and some are illegitimate.”
Brittan, after meeting with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, told Parliament that special police crews would patrol London streets in vehicles around the clock to respond instantly to threats or warnings of a terrorist attack.
On Sunday, the IRA said it bombed the department store, but apologized for the civilian casualties, saying police did not take advantage of a warning the bomb was about to exploded at the luxury store.
Scotland Yard rejected the IRA expression of regret as ”contemptible” and said the group’s warning prior to the bombing had been ”an invitation to death” because it was not specific and came too late.
”I can confirm that an unnamed businessman has offered a reward of a quarter of a million pounds for information leading to the conviction of those responsible for the bomb,” a Scotland Yard spokeswoman said.
The IRA said its members had planted the bomb outside Harrods, but that Saturday’s attack had not been approved by the group’s leadership.
”The Harrods operation was not authorized by the army council of the Irish Republican Army,” the statement said, admitting that IRA ”volunteers” have been operating in Britain during the past week. It said the IRA ”regretted” the civilian casualties.
”We have taken immediate steps to ensure there will be no repetition of this type of incident,” the statement said.
A policeman and policewoman were killed in the attack and 14 officers injured. Three civilians were killed, including Kenneth Salvesan, 28, an American living in London. His hometown was not available.
The IRA said the police had been given a 40-minute prior warning, but had not cleared the area due to ”inefficiency or failure.”
A spokesman for Scotland Yard rejected the IRA statement, saying, ”had they given an index (license) number of this (boobytrapped) car, or even color or make, and had they not maliciously misled by adding false locations, five families would not now be tragically bereaved and 91 people would not have suffered injuries, scarring them for the rest of their lives.”
The spokesman said the IRA call ”was not a warning, it was an invitation to death.”
As Harrods prepared to reopen today, Aleck Craddock, Harrods’ chief executive, said his company would review security in the store.
Police searched rooming houses and appealed for public help in hunting down the IRA guerrillas responsible for the bomb.
Cmdr. William Hucklesby, head of the C-13 anti-terrorist squad, said the bomb consisted of 25 to 30 pounds of explosives — much larger than originally believed — and was packed inside a 1972 blue Austin GT 1300 parked outside Harrods on the heaviest shopping day of the Christmas season.
”We certainly mustn’t assume this is the end of it,” Home Secretary Leon Brittan warned the public. ”Those who have done what they have done have absolutely unlimited capacity for evil. We must track them down and every conceivable effort will be made to do that.”
The Associated Press, February 16th, 1984
‘No Inquiry Into Police Action Against Journalist’
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s government Thursday refused a demand by the opposition Labor Party for an inquiry into the search and seizure of documents from investigative journalist Duncan Campbell.
Gerald Kaufman, Labor’s chief spokesman on such matters, retorted: “Tell the Metropolitan Police Commissioner that this is England and not South Africa.”
Campbell, 31, who works for the leftist weekly New Statesman, has embarrassed authorities for years by revealing intelligence gathering operations, telephone tapping methods, police surveillance details and secret plans for Britain’s defense in nuclear war.
In 1977, he was convicted under the Official Secrets Act, but was conditionally discharged on payment of legal costs.
The latest trouble began when he fell off a bicycle last week and was knocked out for five minutes. He later found all the documents in one bicycle basket container had been kept by police, as well as his contacts book, diary, wallet and a list of future writing projects. Police have still not released the items.
Police of the Special Branch, which conducts political surveillance, then obtained a search warrant, searched his north London apartment for nearly seven hours and took away more documents, Campbell said Thursday,
“Nothing, not even the potted plants, was left undisturbed,” the journalist wrote in an article in the latest New Statesman.
He said he assumed police interest was roused by one document on his bicycle about civil defense planning marked “Restricted.”He said the Greater London Council gave it to him officially since he was a committee member.
Guardian Weekly, March 4th, 1984
Jimmy Brown (Remand prisoner), Crumlin Road Prison, Belfast, ‘An Ulster law unto themselves’
There are numerous problems affecting the people of these islands, not least the right-wing governments of London and Dublin. However, one issue common to all is that of the law.
In London Leon Brittan is busy negotiating the Police Bill through Parliament in the face of growing opposition; in Dublin the Justice Minister, Mr Michael Noonan, is hoping to reinforce the status quo with his Criminal Justice Bill.
With these debates in mind, I urge a closer look at the law and its abuses — perceived or otherwise — as it applies to Northern Ireland.
During the heyday of the British Empire its supporters made much of its laws, equality, and freedoms. Few of these principles appear to be evident in Northern Ireland today, when one looks at how the supergrass system operates. Its critics span both Protestant and Catholic communities, and range through the clergy and trade unions to respected legal and political figures, including many MPs.
Consider the various disparities in the law as applied in Belfast and in London. The British Attorney-General is known to have issued instructions to the DPP for England and Wales not to proceed in cases where the alleged evidence of a supergrass is not corroborated by independent evidence.Yet in Northern Ireland the same Attorney-General permits the charging and trial of people solely on the basis of uncorroborated evidence.
For those who still feel safe in the belief that no such travesty could occur in England and Wales, the recent “conspiracy” case in Cardiff may prove illuminating. During this trial, it was stated that one of the accused had been asked to implicate the Welsh nationalist MP, Mr Dafydd Elis Thomas, in a conspiracy to cause explosions. There was no evidence except that offered by the investigating police officers to one of the accused. When the jury’s verdict resulted in the acquittal and vindication of the men involved, an inquiry was set up into police handling of the case.
In Northern Ireland it is possible to see not only evidence of such police tactics on a grand scale, but also the total disregard for any need for inquiry into the RUC’s handling of supergrass investigations.
During the Cardiff trial some of the accused were held on remand for up to 10 months. On average people in Northern Ireland are held for between 15 and 18 months.
But three men currently on remand in Belfast have just completed 2 years in custody. Thomas Power, Gerrard Steenson and John O’Reilly face charges on the uncorroborated word of their fifth supergrass. So far the allegations of three supergrasses have been withdrawn, and those of a fourth dismissed when the court found the RUC’s star witness to be a “habitual and psychopathic liar”.
They now await trial again on the uncorroborated word of Jackie Grimley, who is servicing a “life” term for the murder of five policemen and security force members.
Grimley has admitted under oath that the RUC instructed him to “set up an attempt to implicate Steenson and others” in any crime possible; and claimed that the RUC Special Branch had entered into a number of criminal conspiracies, including armed robberies.
Yet calls for a public inquiry have so far been ignored. Mr Thomas should be grateful that such practices are not yet perfected by the police in England and Wales.
United Press International, July 27th, 1984
Britain has secretly arrested and deported another Libyan reputed to be an associate of Col. Moammar Khadafy, Foreign Office and police sources say.
The Home Office confirmed Thursday that a Libyan living in the Reading area had been deported under immigration rules, but refused to give further details.
News reports said, however, the man that enrolled at Reading University’s Department of Agriculture was known to security services as Saleh Al Wali. The reports also said he had strong links with Khadady’s inner circle.
A police source said the deportation was a direct result of inquiries into the Libyan embassy siege in April in which policewoman Yvonne Fletcher was shot and killed. The two nations broke diplomatic relations in the wake of the siege.
The deported man’s pregnant wife was not included in the order to leave but she voluntarily left with her husband.
Earlier this month, two Libyan diplomats were ordered out of the country for ”activities incompatible with their status.”
Reports said they were trying to force Libyan students to return home against their will for an ”ideology purification” seminar.
The Guardian, October 13th, 1984
Paul Brown, Colin Brown, Peter Hetherington, David Hearst and Gareth Parry, ‘Cabinet survives IRA hotel blast / Brighton bombing during Conservative Party conference’
An investigation into the security breach which allowed the Provisional IRA to attempt the assassination of the Prime Minister and most of her Cabinet at their Brighton conference hotel began last night.
The bomb brought tons of rubble cascading through seven floors of the Grand Hotel, Brighton, miraculously missing Mrs Thatcher but killing the Conservative MP for Enfield South, Sir Anthony Berry.
Also believed to be dead are Mrs Roberta Wakeham, wife of the Government chief whip, Mr John Wakeham, and Mrs Jeanne Shattock, wife of the president of the South-West Conservative Association, Mr Gordon Shattock. Mr Eric Taylor, chairman of the North-West Area Association was missing.
Mrs Thatcher’s bathroom was demolished two minutes after she had left it, but two of her senior ministers, the Industry Secretary, Mr Norman Tebbit, and Mr Wakeham were trapped in the rubble. Mr Tebbit was brought out after four hours and Mr Wakeham after six. Both men underwent operations in hospital. Mr Wakeham has serious leg injuries.
The Prime Minister insisted that the conference should continue as normal and went on to deliver her keynote speech. The bombing, she said, was ‘an attempt to cripple our Government – and that is the scale of the outrage.’
She and her colleagues had been surrounded by close personal protection for more than two months because of a tip-off about an IRA assassination squad.
The American FBI had warned that a Provisional ‘sleeper squad’ had been reactivated and was planning a winter terrorist offensive. This underlined British intelligence information already gained.
The tip-off was lent extra weight two weeks ago when an FBI tip-off led to the arrest of five alleged IRA gunrunners and the capture of the trawler Marita Anne off the Irish coast.
Recent succeesses against the IRA meant that they had to seek to re-establish their credibility by a spectacular action.
At the scene, police officers confessed their amazement that so many had escaped death. This may have been due to the strength of the Regency building absorbing some of the blast.
The chief constable of Sussex, Mr Roger Birch, asked for an independent inquiry into the security arrangements to be conducted by the deputy chief constable of Hampshire, Mr John Hoddinott.
Commander Bill Hucklesby, head of the anti-terrorist squad, went to Brighton to help with the investigations being carried out by the Sussex police, led by Detective-Chief Superintendent Jack Reece. Also involved are Assistant Chief Constable David Scott and Chief Superintendent Dennis Williams.
Experts estimated the bomb at 10 to 15lb. but – with the dead and critically injured still trapped in the rubble – the Provisional IRA in Dublin issued a statement claiming responsibility and saying the bomb was 100lb.
The statement, addressed to Mrs Thatcher, said in part: ‘Today we were unlucky, but remember we only have to be lucky once. You will have to be lucky always. Give Ireland peace and there will be no war.’
After her speech to the conference, in which she again emphasised her refusal to be moved by the bombers, Mrs Thatcher went straight to the Royal Sussex Hospital, where she spent two hours with the injured.
She said the 18 victims she spoke to had one defiant message for the Provisional IRA – that she should not give in.
It was a miracle that even more people were not injured in the explosion, she said. Mr Tebbit and Mr Wakeham were both asleep during her visit.
She said some of the victims were asleep when the bomb went off. ‘They found themselves way outside their rooms, there were people several storeys down, it is unbelievable. There was a great deal of rubble, then a great deal of dust and a lot of water.’
Mr Birch, the Sussex Chief Constable, refused to speculate about the size or nature of the bomb. There were rumours that it was timed to go off when ministers would be in their rooms and had been planted in a front bedroom. The impact of the bomb appeared to have been concentrated on the fifth floor, collapsing lower floors and ripping off the roof.
Debris was scattered over the promenade and the beach. Forensic scientists are expected to take some days to piece together information about the device.
At a press conference, Mr Birch took complete responsibility for the security arrangements in the town but he insisted that they were adequate.
He said: ‘I feel a great sense of sadness that it should have happened. I am still of the opinion that the arrangements we made were appropriate to the occasion.
‘To guarantee 100 per cent security, particularly from an explosive device, would call for the sort of security arrangements which so far have or would prove quite unacceptable to the community, and therefore you would have to have a total split between the people like ministers in residence and other people sharing the hotel.’
The bomb, which went off at about 2.54 a. m., could have caused greater mayhem in the hotel had the main bar on the ground floor not closed promptly at 2 a. m.
All those staying at the hotel yesterday had to register at the conference centre to help the police to establish who was missing, and to reclaim property. Many lost their clothes. Marks & Spencer opened their store to replace them.
The blast also scattered Government papers and Cabinet documents, with their red boxes which were collected quickly by the rescue teams and driven away in a police Land Rover, but some remained buried in the ruins.
As well as Mrs Thatcher’s bathroom, Sir Geoffrey’s study was also demolished. Mr John Gummer, who was helping Mrs Thatcher to put the finishing touches to her conference speech, had gone across the corridor to collect some papers when the blast occurred. He was unhurt.
Mr Paul Boswell, aged 59, the hotel manager, said that if the blast had gone according to plan ‘it would have meant that the whole lot would have come down on Mrs Thatcher.’
Mr Boswell, who handed in his notice on Thursday ready for retirement, was in his flat on the second floor when the bomb went off.
In the hotel bar, Mr Ron Farley, aged 40, the Tory group leader of Bradford City Council, was still in evening dress when the explosion occurred.
‘Everyone was showered with glass and I told them to get down,’ he said. ‘I shouted to the people to join hands. There were about 30 or 40 of us who linked up and we slowly made our way through the back. Some of the people were crying or sobbing. I went back to try to help the injured.
‘There was one policeman lying on the floor, covered in rubble. We pulled away all the dust and rubbish. He was injured, I don’t know how badly.
‘Then I found this poor old dear, a 70-year-old lady, can you believe? She had one eye missing. It was terrible.’
Two bodies were recovered, perched and dangling from joists in the gaping hole in the front of the hotel.
Firemen had to pick their way downwards, taking off the beams and joists one by one.
After two hours, Mr Tebbit’s foot was seen poking through the beams. Fireman Tony Hayward said: ‘He was in quite a bit of pain but he did not show it. He is really a strong guy.’
The Tory party organiser, Mr Harvey Thomas, who was rescued after 1hr 45min under the rubble, left hospital to listen to Mrs Thatcher’s speech.
His wife brought him some clothes from London. He said he had thought he was going to die, but after an hour he heard firemen’s voices.
‘The firemen were terrific. They worked for an hour, during which time we were freezing cold and the water was pouring over us. I had been on the seventh floor and I was pulled out of the fifth, so I must have fallen two floors. I am very thankful. My wife is expecting a baby today.’
The Associated Press, October 22nd, 1984
The government announced a new intelligence effort Monday to combat Irish terrorism, and security measures were stepped up around Parliament as legislators returned to work after the summer recess.
Home Secretary Leon Brittan told the House of Commons he had ordered “new arrangements centrally for countering the Irish terrorist threat” following the bomb explosion that killed four people Oct. 12 in the Brighton hotel at which Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her Cabinet were staying.
He said the aim was to concentrate “the widest range of experience in assessing Irish terrorist intentions” and “coordinate the counter-measures required to meet them.”
He denied a weekend press report that the investigation of the Brighton bombing, for which the Irish Republican Army took responsibility, was being hampered by poor relations between different police forces. But his statement was seen as an attempt to make the country’s security agencies work more closely together.
The domestic news agency Press Association said an interdepartmental government committee was being established to assess data on terrorism and decide what measures were needed.
Britain has no national police force or equivalent of the American FBI. Its Special Branch, founded in 1870 to combat Irish subversives, and the present-day C13 anti-terrorist squad, are attached to Scotland Yard, which is responsible for policing the Greater London area.
The bombing probe in coastal Brighton is the responsibility of the local county constabulary.
To cries of “Hear, hear!” Brittan assured the Commons: “We will not be bombed into boltholes (hiding places) by terrorists.” But the security measures imposed in London were evident.
Video cameras, roadblocks and extra police were posted around the Houses of Parliament, and access to Mrs. Thatcher’s official residence at 10 Downing St. was severely restricted.
Mrs. Thatcher’s Conservatives are already consulting with police to plan their next annual party conference, in the northwest resort city of Blackpool. Brittan advised all party organizers to contact police well in advance to make their meetings secure.
He said total security was impossible because it would deny the public its customary accessibility to British leaders. But, he said, “Immediate attention has been given to the assessment of other potential targets and the provision of proper protection for them.”
Conservative legislator Peter Bruinvels introduced a motion calling for an early debate in the House of Commons on restoring the death penalty for terrorist crimes. Hanging was abolished in 1969, and last year a motion to restore it was defeated handily.
The Guardian, October 23rd, 1984
Colin Brown, ‘Parliament: Intelligence unit to combat Irish terror / Home Secretary Brittan on the Brighton bombing’
The Home Secretary, Mr Leon Brittan, yesterday announced the setting up of an intelligence unit at Scotland Yard to counter the Irish terrorist threat, following the Brighton bombing which resulted in four dead and 32 injured.
In a statement on the bombing to the Commons on its return after the summer recess, Mr Brittan said: ‘We will not be bombed into bolt holes by terrorists.’
His message won united support from all sides of the House, including Mr Gerald Kaufman, the Shadow Home Secretary, who said: ‘Let it go forth that an attack on any of us is an attack on all of us – we shall resist that attack and we shall win.’
The Commons joined with Mr Brittan in expressing sympathy for the families of the victims.
Mr Kaufman, in expressing the sympathy of the Opposition, was cheered when he said Labour MPs hoped soon to see the Industry Secretary, Norman Tebbit, restored to health and returning to the Commons ‘in his usual rude health.’ Mr Tebbit and his wife. Margaret, are also still in hospital.
The Home Secretary told MPs that the explosion had no less a purpose than ‘to strike a blow at the heart of our democracy by killing the majority of the Cabinet.’
Praising the police. and the security services, Mr Brittan said: ‘The task of obtaining evidence about the bomb itself was formidable and the police were not yet in a position to describe it more fully beyond that it was believed to have been about 20 pounds of commercial explosive.’ A total of 31 skips and 750 dustbins full of debris had been removed from the Grand Hotel and 228 police officers were engaged in this task.
More than 200 police officers were engaged in a pursuit of inquiries about the bombers. Mr Brittan said that it would be wrong to anticipate the conclusions of the police report on security at the conference. ‘I shall, however, to the extent that this does not prejudice security, report them to the House in due course.’
Mr Brittan assured the Commons that new measures to improve security in the Palace of Westminster were in hand.
‘The Brighton bombing also demonstrates the vulnerability of party political engagements, This applies locally as well as nationally. Local party organisers should be careful to contact the police about arrangements well in advance,’ said Mr Brittan.
New arrangements for countering the Irish terrorist threat had been set in hand centrally. The aim, he said, was to bring to bear the widest range of experience in assessing Irish terrorist intentions and capabilities and to advise on, and coordinate, the counter-measures required to meet them. These would supplement the continuing role of the Metropolitan Police Special Branch.
Mr Brittan said: ‘Total security is impossible in a free, democratic society. Political and other leaders are vulnerable because they must be accessible. Everything which can be done, will be done to prevent such outrages and protect their targets. But we will not be bombed into bolt holes by terrorists.’
Mr Kaufman, for the Opposition, said: ‘This was no random act of violence. It cannot be compared and should not be compared with any other act of violence, great or small, which takes’ place in our society.
‘This was a deliberate attempt to destroy the Government by mass murder.
‘That Government is a Conservative Government with which we have the most serious differences. But it is the democratically elected government. It is the British Government and let it be said in the plainest terms, the only way to get rid of a Government in Britain is by the ballot box.
‘Terrorism and assassination have no place whatever in the political process in this country.
‘We utterly and unanimously reject it and will fight with every fibre of our being against it. With Voltaire, we say to the Government we disapprove of what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it.’
Mr Kaufman called for an examination of the whole question of security surrounding the Government and parliament.
He added: ‘But while we here are obvious targets for terrorist action and it is important to ensure the maximum possible security compatible with the right of the people to have access to their elected representatives, let us be clear that our security is no more important than that of the whole of the population who are at risk from the foul gangsters.’
Just because politicians have chosen to take part in public life, they could not expect greater safety than those caught up in the Harrods bomb, the Regents’ Park atrocity or those in Northern Ireland, civilians and troops, who face these dangers every day.
‘We are all in the front line. We must face these risks unitedly together.’
Mr David Steel, the Liberal leader, on behalf of the Alliance, said the IRA had misunderstood both public and parliamentary opinion. ‘We are one family in this House and when one member of that family is attacked, the only effect is to unite all members of the family. We will not bow to terrorism.’
Mr Julian Amery (C Brighton Pavilion) protested about the very unfair criticism of the police force before any inquiry had taken place.
Mr Andrew Bowden (C Brighton Kemptown) protested about an article in the Sunday Times claiming that there were serious differences between the Sussex police and the Metropolitan police. He said it was totally and completely untrue and one of the most scurrilious pieces of journalism he had seen.
‘They have printed the names of witnesses when they were specifically asked not to do so by the Assistant Chief Constable. Is that not impeding his inquiry and making it more difficult to bring the guilty to book?’ he said.
The Home Secretary said it was important to make it absolutely clear there was no truth at all in the suggestion of differences of opinion between the forces investigating the murder nor any truth in the suggestion of inadequate resources being available.
Mr James Molyneaux (OUP. Lagan Valley) told Mr Brittan that in seeking the cooperation of the Republic of Ireland in the battle against terrorism, the Government should avoid paying any price which concede the objectives of the terrorists either in whole or in part.
Mrs Jill Knight (C Edgbaston) said the IRA could not continue their campaign of anarchy without help from their two major sources of supply for money and arms – the Soviet Union and the United States.
The Guardian, November 22nd, 1984
Stephen Cook, ‘MPs suspect whitewash in special branch inquiry / Inquiry into police special branch’
Opposition MPs suspect that the Government has devised a strategy to play down the controversial aspects of the inquiry into the police special branch.
The inquiry, by the Commons home affairs committee, opens on Wednesday with evidence from the Association of Metropolitan Authorities.
They believe that their anxieties over the balance in special branch operations between the safety of the state and civil liberties will be brushed off by government and police witnesses either as ignorance or police-bashing.
It is the notable change in he Government’s attitude towards the inquiry which leads Labour MPs to think that attempts are being made in the political lobbies and through the media to limit the potential damage from the inquiry by playing down its significance.
When it was first mooted – following the news that special branch officers had visited a woman in the West Midlands who had written to a newspaper opposing cruise missiles – the Home Secretary, Mr Leon Brittan, warned that it might end up ‘in a blind alley’.
Now that the committee has decided to go ahead, the Government is making much of the fact that all evidence will he given in public, and suggesting there is nothing to hide. Although the committee has powers to make witnesses give evidence it cannot make them answer questions.
The Labour MPs on the committee, chaired by Sir Edward Gardner, QC and Conservative MP for Fylde, are particularly keen to clarify the reasons why certain people are subject to listing by the special branch, whose primary job is to liaise with M15 to gather political intelligence.
The Guardian, December 11th, 1984
‘Phone taps on CND illegal / Home Secretary on alleged phone-tapping of anti-nuclear group’
Security services could no have legally tapped the telephones or intercepted the mail of CND members, the Home Secretary, MrLeon Brittan. told MPs yesterday.
Mr Brittan made it clear that CND was a legitimate organisation, despite its opposition to government policies on defence, and could not have its communications intercepted legally under the guidelines set out in a 1980 white paper.
Warrants for interception under the guidelines can only be granted for the police to assist them in the detection of serious crime or if there is a subversive, terrorist or espionage activity that is likely to injure the national interest.
His assurance that the CND Members and their organisation did not fall within this category is bound to lead to speculation that interceptions took place illegally when the National Council for Civil Liberties presents a series of complaints by CND to the home affairs select committee of the Commons tomorrow in its review of the Special Branch.
CND has complained that its mail has been tampered with and it has noticed irregularities with telephone calls – in one case a conversation was played back. The Post Office has paid compensation to the organisation.
Mr Brittan told the former Labour Home Secretary, Mr Merlyn Rees, that something had gone wrong.
But Mr Brittan suggested that until the Post Office’s inquiries were complete the only two things that the Commons could be sure had gone wrong were a Post Office machine and the quality of CND packaging.
He firmly ruled out a government inquiry into the complaints by CND, which were raised by the shadow home secretary, Mr Gerald Kaufman.
Mr Brittan also surprised MPs by refusing to give any categorical assurance that they were not having their telephones tapped, whether or not they were members of CND.
Mr Eldon Griffiths, parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation, said last night he had investigated tampering with his own mail and clicks on the telephone which suggested that it might have been tapped by the security forces, because he lived near USAF and RAF bases.
But he said the letters had been opened and re-sealed as a result of machinery going wrong and had been delayed by incompetence or industrial action. Interference on the telephone had been caused by trees outside his home coming into contact with telephone wires.
Mrs Joan Ruddock, chairman of CND, commented later: ‘The Home Secretary’s failure in the House of Commons to condemn any form of telephone and mail interference, authorised or unauthorised, does no credit to the government of a supposedly free and democratic society.’
The Guardian, December 15th, 1984
Stuart Wavell, ‘Weekend people: The chief prepares to quit the field of battle / Joan Ruddock considers stepping down as CND chairperson’
As the staff of CND reportedly debate an appropriate financial inducement for the successor to Monsignor Bruce Kent as general secretary, Joan Ruddock is giving serious thought to stepping down as the organisation’s chairperson.
Mrs Ruddock, who was recently re-elected to her fourth term of office, told me this week that while she has no immediate plans in mind, her job possessed an inherent limit that was ‘not too far away.’ She admitted that she is attracted to the idea of returning to politics (she stood unsuccessfully as a Labour candidate in Newbury). ‘Whether I would find a constituency that wanted to adopt me is another matter,’ she said.
She explained that part of her dilemma stemmed from CND’s reluctant compliance with the media’s desire that its message should be projected by a couple of individuals (her and Mgr Kent).
‘The danger is that these people, their personalities and characteristics, become more important than the policies they convey,’ she said. ‘That is why there has to be some limit to the amount of time that anyone stays in that very high profile position. I won’t say at this time what I expect to do, but you will gather from what I am saying that the limit should not be too far away. Just as Bruce chose to carefully time and phase his departure, I would have the same concerns.’
She also mentioned the strain on her personal life. She works part-time for the Citizen’s Advice Bureau in Reading, devoting weekends and most spare time to CND activities. But it is not clear from all this how serious she is. Last year she told Weekend People that if she had known what the job had entailed she might not have taken it on, yet she has stood twice since then.
I asked whether a contributory factor was a distaste for CND’s cumbersome decision-making apparatus spelled out recently by Mgr Kent. The conference structure of CND, he wrote in the New Statesman, favoured those who lived ‘in a world of resolutions, amendments, points of order and points of information.’
She replied that this was sometimes boring and frustrating, but that she did not know of a better system nor of any other such organisation which established policies by democratic means. CND’s membership, she pointed out, was probably larger than those of the Labour Party and the SDP.
Well, did she agree with Mgr Kent’s complaint that a not insubstantial section of CND seemed content with pushing into the Labour Party’s manifesto as many of CND’s ultimate aims as possible without much interest in converting the electorate?
She did, up to a point. She said that CND had achieved as much with Labour as they had a right to expect, and that Labour’s defence document still needed some revision.
Converting the electorate, however, was not CND’s job. ‘The Labour Party can’t sit back and say ‘ We have got the policy and that will do.’ That will not do. They have got to dispel the myth that removing nuclear weapons will leave Britain defenceless. We are not doing something that will translate into votes for us. We cannot do it for them; they must do it themselves. So far we have seen little sign of their being prepared to do so.’
The reason for this interview had been to elicit more information about what is bugging CND – part of the current investigation intoSpecial Branch activities undertaken by a Home Office select committee. Appropriately my telephonic approach to CND was greeted with a fruity selection of crackles.
All par for the course, notionally normal but down-right suspicious, Mrs Ruddock believes. Engineers probing disconnections and loss of dialing tone had been mystified. And there was Mrs R’s own unique experience. ‘I was trying to regain the dial tone by pressing the receivers. I heard my voice repeating a portion of the conversation I had just had. Some people conclude it’s a form of harrassment.’
She found Leon Brittan’s statement that the security forces could not have legally tapped CND’s phones or intercepted its mail to be disturbingly ambiguous. Developments would be viewed with scepticism, she said. His remark about the quality of CND wrapping was at odds with the fact that envelopes had been cleanly slit open.
She first suspected Special Branch surveillance some years ago, when she was the relatively unknown co-ordinator of the Newbury Campaign Against Cruise Missiles. Photographers with telephoto lenses had snapped the crowd outside a Newbury meeting addressed by Francis Pym. At Greenham, where she had helped to set up a peace camp before the advent of the Cardiff women, car numbers had been taken overtly.
‘One day I went up there by myself. There wasn’t a soul around. I turned my car round and stopped. Suddenly a police car rushed up. The policeman wound down his window and said ‘Hello Mrs Ruddock, can we help you? ‘
Since when she believed the taking of car numbers and photographic surveillance has become standard. And now phone-tapping, brought to the attention of the National Council Civil Liberties because of the volume of complaints from CND members.
‘Because of these inexplicable instances I work on the assumption that a third party is listening. I object very strongly.’
She and her husband live outside Reading in the village of Burghfield, home of a Royal Ordinance Factory which is believed to manufacture and rearm nuclear weapons. Wasn’t that rather like moving to Brands Hatch and complaining about the noise? She laughed.
‘I went there in oblivion, not knowing that the ROF was a weapons plant. If I had known I wouldn’t have lived there.’
Most of the villagers work for the Ministry of Defence. ‘I understand – and they know I understand – that it’s uncomfortable for them to be associated with me. I don’t accuse anybody of anything. I know they have no choice, although I want to have a choice. I have never had a bitter argument with any of them.’
Mrs Ruddock will be getting some new neighbours soon. Building work is in hand at Burghfield to accommodate American servicemen from Greenham Common. Eye contact, one imagines, will be a ticklish daily hazard.
The Guardian, December 20th, 1984
Stephen Cook, ‘Brittan bans bugs in telephone boxes / Home Secretary orders tighter restrictions on police surveillance’
Police must stop putting devices to tap telephone conversations in public call boxes and must tighten procedures for authorising and recording the use of surveillance equipment, the Home Secretary announced yesterday.
In a Commons written reply he said that no information is to be made public about these devices and how they are used. Nor will statistical information on their use be gathered at the Home Office. HM Inspectors of Constabulary are to check that they are only used where necessary.
Mr Brittan was referring to new guidelines to police forces drawn up after a review prompted by a case in North Wales where officers were seen placing a listening device in a telephone kiosk.
He said: ‘The guidance issued in 1977 recommended that records should be kept of the use of aural surveillance devices, and the new guidelines will require records to be kept for both aural and visual devices.’
Under the guidelines – which apply to Special Branch and the CID – only a Chief Constable may authorise the covert use of listening, recording, and transmitting equipment. If a member of the public is cooperating with an operation authority can come from an assistant chief constable.
But in the case of covert operations the Chief Constable must be satisfied that the investigation concerns serious crime that other methods have failed or are unlikely to succeed, and that there is good reason to anticipate an arrest and conviction or the prevention of terrorism.
The authorising officer must be satisfied that the degree of intrusion into people’s privacy is commensurate with the seriousness of the offence.
‘Where the targets of surveillance might reasonably assume a high degree of privacy, particularly in their own homes, listening devices should be used only for the investigation of major organised conspiracies and of other particularly serious offences, especially crimes of violence,’ the guidelines say.
Chief officers are reminded that telephone tapping can only be done with a warrant from the Home Secretary, but the use of a listening device should not be ruled out simply because it might pick up or end of a telephone conversation.
If cameras are to be used to observe a person in a private place – private homes, or hotel bedrooms – the same procedures should be observed as for listening devices.
Where there is general surveillance or surveillance of an individual in a public place, a Chief Superintendent can give permission.
Use of binoculars telescopes, and night vision equipment should be controlled by an officer with a rank of at least Inspector. In exceptional urgency, a Chief Superintendent can give permission normally reserved to a chief officer
The Home Office said last night that it would be illegal for police to place a device inside a person’s home or otherwise to tamper with his property without his permission.
The Guardian, December 21st, 1984
Stephen Cook, ‘Special Branch guidelines published / Home Office guidelines on countering terrorism and monitoring subversives’
Home Office guidelines to police forces about the role of the Special Branch in countering terrorism and monitoring people it considers to be subversive were unexpectedly published for the first time yesterday by the Home Secretary, Mr Leon Brittan.
The appearance of the guidelines, which confirm much common knowledge about Special Branch activities, was claimed as something of a coup by some members of the Commons select committee on home affairs, which is halfway through an inquiry into the branch.
Earlier this year Mr Brittan, who is due to give evidence to the committee next month, said that the inquiry would face a blind alley. But its members feel that it is making some progress, and some want it prolonged to take evidence from junior as well as chief police officers.
Mr David Winnick, Labour MP for Walsall North, who pressed for the inquiry, said yesterday: ‘One can only rather cynically conclude that this is a pre-emptive strike by the Home Secretary. But the guidelines provide too wide a framework and need to be tightened up.’
The guidelines say that Special Branch duties include assessing whether marches meetings, demonstrations and pickets pose a threat to public order, and helping the security services to guard against espionage, sabotage, and the actions of persons or organisations inside or outside the country ‘which may be judged to be subversive to the state.’
Another duty is armed protection for people thought to be at risk, and the monitoring of anyone ‘who may plan to harm prominent individuals for political reasons or because of mental disturbance.’ Special Branch officers keep watch and gather information at airports and seaports, and may help with immigration or naturalisation inquiries.
The Metropolitan Police Special Branch has national responsibility for matters relating to Irish terrorism, the guidelines say, and for protection for the Royal Family, Government and former ministers and diplomats. A national joint unit at Scotland Yard coordinates inquiries and applications for exclusion orders under prevention of terrorism laws.
Intelligence should be released only to people with ‘a particular need to know,’ say the guidelines. They warn: ‘Data on individuals or organisations should not under any circumstances be collected or held solely on the basis that such a person or organisation supports unpopular causes or on the basis of race or creed.’
Mr Winnick said that the guidelines were so ambiguous as to leave it to the discretion of Special Branch officers to decide on their targets. They did not forbid the kind of operation in which Mrs Madeleine Haigh, a CND member in the West Midlands, was visited by Special Branch because she wrote to a newspaper to oppose cruise missiles.
‘The manner in which they are required to keep tabs on demonstrations and marches is also a bit disturbing,’ he said. ‘I feel that not enough is being done to give Special Branch proper training in the processes of political democracy. It is quite easy for them to think that anyone who challenges the existing order is subversive.’
Mr John Wheeler, Conservative MP for Westminster North and another member of the committee, said: ‘Our inquiry makes it necessary to produce this kind of information, and I think the more we expose what is done, the more reassuring it all is. Most Special Branch officers are engaged on boring and routine duties.’
He added: ‘Flexibility is a most important aspect of their work, but there is clearly a question about whether they are wasting resources investigating people who don’t count and don’t matter. This is something we have yet to put to the police. It was the nub of the evidence given to us by the National Council for Civil Liberties.’
The Guardian, December 22nd, 1984
David McKie, ‘MPs protest at role of Special Branch / Labour MPs protest over Special Branch guidelines on industrial disputes’
Labour MPs protested yesterday over the guidelines for Special Branch activity unexpectedly published late on Thursday by the Home Secretary, MrLeon Brittan.
The Labour employment spokesman, Mr John Prescott, wrote to Mr Brittan yesterday asking for further clarification. ‘As you will appreciate,’ he said, ‘this is a most sensitive area which involves the rights of our citizens, and in particular trade unionists who, in the judgment of some government ministers, are considered to be and are treated as the enemy within.’
Mr Prescott said the guidelines had produced the first public acknowledgement that the special branch was monitoring union activities which might be judged subversive, though he accepted that the guidelines said the information must not be passed on to employers or other organisations.
Mr Prescott asked whether the definition of subversive activity related solely to possible acts of a criminal nature, or whether it also involved the branch in making political judgments.
He said he knew of Special Branch activity in photographing disputes and pickets, and introducing reports on the movements of individual trade unionists. He asked for more to be said about how such information was used and asked if people approached by the Special Branch on the basis of such information and requested to identify individuals, had the right to refuse.
Mr Prescott said yesterday that the Government’s definition of ‘subversives’ was a threat to trade unions and trade unionists.
Tony Heath writes: A call for an independent judicial inquiry into the activities of the Special Branch was made yesterday by the president of Plaid Cymru, Mr Dafydd Elis Thomas, MP, who claimed that political policing was intensifying, particularly in Wales
Speaking at Dolgellau, in his Merionnydd Nant Conwy constituency, Mr Thomas said: ‘In a democracy the police have a duty to protect the right of those who disagree.
‘Instead, the Special Branch guidelines published this week indicated that unaccountable public servants are free to act on any whim, fancy, or piece of misinformation. They equate democratic dissent with subversion.’
Plaid Cymru had been collecting evidence of political policing for almost a year. The miners’ strike had given rise to over-reaction by police on and off the picket line, Mr Thomas said. Interfering with activists’ telephones was common-place.
Plaid Cymru’s initiative was welcomed by the Welsh Language Society.
The Guardian, December 22nd, 1984
Leading Article: ‘Guidelines into a very grey area / Guidelines for police Special Branch’
For 101 years, part of the British police force has been solely engaged in political surveillance. In 1984 as in 1983, one of its principal targets is Irish republicanism. But gradually the net has widened from Fenianism. The Special Irish Branch has become the Special Branch pure and simple and it now concerns itself with a far wider range of oppositional activities. Some idea of how wide that net is now cast emerges from the guidelines on Special Branch work released this week by the Home Office. Today’s Special Branch deals with firearms and explosives crime, immigration and nationality inquiries, port and airport surveillance, armed protection for VIPs and checking on the movements of foreign diplomats. But the guidelines also highlight two further major responsibilities: the Branch are the legmen for MI5 in dealing with terrorism and subversion and, in the bland language of the new document, they gather information about threats to public order.
Nothing of what we now know about the Special Branch has emerged without outside public pressure. Until recently, there was no public information whatsoever. MPs who tried to put down questions on the subject were simply refused answers. No local police force (and each has its own Special Branch) gave any information to its police authority. This changed in the dying years of the Callaghan government, after the furore about the Agee and Hosenball deportations and the ABC official secrets case. After pressure from Mr Robin Cook MP, the then Home Secretary, Merlyn Rees, allowed a brief adjournment debate, in which he acknowledged that the Branch concerns itself with ‘subversive activities which threaten the safety or wellbeing of the State, and which are intended to undermine or overthrow parliamentary democracy by political, industrial or violent means.’ Since then, most local police forces have given brief and anodyne annual details of their Special Branch. Even so, it has taken the brave decision of the all-party Home Affairs Select Committee to mount an investigation into the Branch to prise out the latest details. This week’s release of the guidelines is designed to cushion Mr Leon Brittan’s unwilling appearance in front of the committee in the new year.
The new guidelines beg vital questions. In finally admitting what many already assumed, that the police ‘provide assessments’ about marches, demonstrations, meetings and pickets, they fail to say how far and by what methods the police routinely keep tabs on wholly legitimate political activity. The elastic definitions of subversion allow police to gather information on legal as well as illegal activities. Recent revelations about the surveillance of the CND and of the miners’ union are only the tip of this grey area iceberg. An inquiry in South Australia in 1977 by Mr justice White into a Special Branchwhich was set up by British police on the British model revealed that almost every protest movement, trade union and socialist group (including the Labour Party which formed the elected state government) had been considered systematic fair game. It is probable, at the very least, that the BritishSpecial Branch employs similar criteria in its file-keeping, and there is nothing in the new guidelines which seriously dents that suspicion. When Mr Brittan sees the select committee, someone should ask him how many Special Branch files exist on members of the Labour Party and how many on the Conservative Party.
Every state has a right to prevent its overthrow and to stop terrorism. The British state has long had laws giving it those powers. But the civil liberties of those who oppose the government are no less vital, and they have no such legal support. At present, the publication of the guidelines serves to legitimate current dubious police practice rather than to protect the right to oppose. Even the guidelines, inadequate though they are, have no force. What is needed is legislation to put the security services, the Special Branch and their methods on a statutory basis which can at least be challenged in the courts.
The Guardian, December 24th, 1984
Paul Keel, ‘Labour wants Brittan to lead inquiry into the Murrell death / Allegations surrounding the murder of Miss Hilda Murrell in March 1984’
The Labour front bench has now entered the controversy over the murder of 78-year-old Miss Hilda Murrell with a call for Mr Leon Brittan, the Home Secretary to head personally an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding her death.
Attention was focussed on the murder inquiry last Thursday when Mr Tam Dalyell, the Labour MP for Linlithgow, claimed in the House of Commons that the elderly anti-nuclear activist had died as a result of a violent encounter with British intelligence officers at her home in Shrewsbury last March.
He said that they were searching for supposed sensitive documents relating to the sinking of the Belgrano because her Nephew, Mr Rob Green, had been a naval intelligence officer at the time of the Falklands conflict.
West Mercia police, who are heading the murder investigation, have said that there is no evidence whatsoever to support Mr Dalyell’s allegations.
But yesterday Mr Alf Dubs, the MP for Battersea and a Labour shadow spokesman on home affairs, said that so many apparent discrepancies were emerging.
‘What is required is for the Home Secretary himself to take personal charge of the inquiry and to make the findings public, otherwise there will be the feeling that a cover-up is taking place,’ he said.
Mr Dalyell asked yesterday why this branch of the police force would have taken part in in investigation into the murder of an elderly spinster unless there was more to the crime than has since been suggested.
The Guardian, January 23rd, 1985
James Naughtie, ‘Brittan sets up team to foil bombers / Home Secretary announces plans for new security at party conferences’
A committee of senior police officers, security officials and representatives of the political parties is to draw up plans to counter terrorist attacks at party conferences.
Announcing the measure yesterday, Mr Leon Brittan, the Home Secretary, said the police were not responsible for security lapses leading to the Brighton bombing on October 5 last year – but he disclosed that his own suite in the Grand Hotel had not been searched before the explosion.
He told the Commons that the team under the chairmanship of Sir Lawrence Byford, Chief Inspector of Constabulary, would help significantly to provide ‘a firm framework.’ But he was accused by Mr Gerald Kaufman, the Shadow Home Secretary, of having made an ‘inadequate and complacent’ statement.
He complained that the Government had refused to allow senior opposition figures in all parties to see the report on the Brighton bombing prepared by Mr John Hoddinott, the deputy chief constable of Hampshire.
Mr Merlyn Rees, the former home secretary, said that confidential access to such reports had been provided in the past and it is clear that there is strong feeling in the Opposition that Mr Brittan should have provided full details on Privy Counsellor terms, assuring confidentiality.
Mr Brittan told MPs that the bomb which killed five people in the Grand Hotel had contained between 20 and 30lbs of explosives and it had been placed behind a bath panel in Room 629. It was almost certainly detonated by a long-delay timer, he said. A person who stayed in the room about three weeks before the explosion had given a false address.
The most startling information revealed by the Home Secretary was in answer to Mr Alex Carlile, the Liberal home affairs spokesman, when he agreed that of the rooms on the first floor which had been searched before the conference, his own had been omitted. Mr Brittan is one of the most closely guarded ministers in the Government.
Although he said the police were not to be criticised for not discovering the bomb, many MPs last night were expressing surprise at the failure to search the hotel adequately. Mr Brittan said the failure was because of the absence of a ‘clear allocation of responsibility within the Sussex police.’
He then announced the establishment of a permanent working group to co-ordinate police activities with the Home Office and including representatives from M15 and the army. Mr Brittan said that central arrangements for assessing terrorist intentions set up after the bombing had already proved of value.
The essence of Mr Hoddinott’s report as revealed by the Home Secretary, was the need for better co-ordination between the Metropolitan Police special branch, other security authorities and local police forces, which would continue to carry much of the responsibility for specific counter measures against terrorist attacks.
However, he made no secret of the Government’s view that there was a limit to the security arrangements which were acceptable in a democratic society.
He said of Mr Hoddinott’s report: ‘He did not criticise the police for failing to control and search each person enter ing the hotel during the period of the conference. He concluded that the hotel and those wishing to use it would not have accepted such an arrangement and that, given the assumption of free access to the hotel, the numbers involved would, anyway, have made it impracticable.’
The Guardian, January 24th, 1985
Leading Article: ‘Thinking hard among the Grand debris / Security and terrorism’
When a shattering outrage like the Brighton hotel bombing takes place, the instinctive reflex is to demand a sweeping and ferocious response. Last October, this instinct produced two reactions. The first was to find a scapegoat. The second was a demand for wholesale tightening of preventive security in order to stop the unthinkable from happening again. Initial responses of this kind are understandable and natural. But they are psychologically complex. Retribution and guilt sit cheek by jowl with rational effectiveness. And such instincts have almost always proved an unreliable basis for long term policy and law-making.
A decade ago, within days of the Birmingham pub bombings, the Wilson government pushed a temporary Prevention of Terrorism Act through Parliament. That law remains not without its occasional legitimate uses, but also providing a large and convenient fig-leaf for some highly dubious police trawling within the Irish community. It was not a healthy precedent and, as the Grand Hotel bomb showed, it has not prevented the determined terrorist. No subsequent government has publicly accepted this argument. But, to judge by the tone of his remarks in the House of Commons this week, this lesson has been well learned by the Home Secretary, Leon Brittan. On Tuesday, in his statement to the house on the Brighton bomb and on the findings of the inquiry by Mr John Hoddinott, deputy chief constable of Hampshire, Mr Brittan offered no legislative panaceas. Indeed, in unlikely agreement with the urgings of Mr Tony Benn, Mr Brittan went out of his way to state that the balance between security and the exercise of civil liberties should not be lightly altered. ‘Nothing that I have said,’ the Home Secretary emphasised, ‘indicates the slightest readiness to slide over civil liberties.’ Words to remember.
Having said which, there are some very unsatisfactory and unresolved aspects of the Home Secretary’s report. One has to be a mite cautious about making these criticisms, since the text of the Hoddinott report has been kept secret. Mr Brittan only gave MPs the gist of the findings. He has even refused to reveal the full report in private, on ‘privy councillor’ terms, to Opposition front benchers. This suggests an element of bluff in Mr Brittan’s relatively low profile public response. Nevertheless, the Grand Hotel bomb came close to obliterating the Cabinet. Judged against the magnitude of that act, the Hoddinott report exposes two exceptionally serious areas of failure. The first is in the police’s physical preparations. Mr Hoddinott has given his Sussex colleagues a pretty easy ride. Their plans were ‘proper and reasonable.’ They carried them out ‘competently and professionally.’ This is a lot to swallow. The fact is that the Brighton conference area (which included the Grand Hotel) was cordoned off for the week of the Conservative conference. Nevertheless it was pretty easy to get through the barrier and, once through it, access to the Grand was straightforward, at all hours. Searches of the hotel were clearly inadequate, judged not merely by the fact that the bomb went off, but by the admission that not all rooms were searched and by the ease with which it was possible to move around the hotel.
The second big question is whether the police really understood enough about the threat which they faced. Mr Hoddinott says that they had access to the relevant intelligence. Perhaps so. But did they know how to draw lessons from it? Clearly not. Information is one thing, and the Special Branch has plenty of that. Knowledge based on that information is quite another matter. And there is plenty of accumulated evidence that the Special Branch and MI5 do not know how to make sound deductions from the mass of information at their disposal. The Special Branch gets off particularly lightly from what Mr Brittan told the Commons on Tuesday and that may well be because he wishes to protect them from criticism while they are under investigation by the Home Affairs Select Committee. Nevertheless, Mr Brittan is setting up a new improved counter-terrorist liaison group to advise on future threats. Liaison is naturally, blandly welcome. But no amount of liaison is a substitute for improved and better focused methods of intelligence interpretation.
The Guardian, January 29th, 1985
James Naughtie, ‘Brittan guidelines ‘give special branch carte blanche’ – Labour / Home Office guidelines for the special branch’
Mr Leon Brittan the Home Secretary, was accused yesterday of writing ‘a spies’ charter’ for special branches throughout Britain in the Home Office guidelines on their activities.
Mr John Prescott, Labour’s employment spokesman, said Mr Brittan’s interpretation of the guidelines in a letter to him yesterday revealed the freedom given to special branch officers as ‘carte blanche.’
In his letter to Mr Prescott, Mr Brittan said that the special branch must not be prevented from ‘looking into the activities of those whose real aim is to harm our democracy, but who for tactical or other reasons, choose to keep (either in the long or the short term) within the letter of the law in what they do.’
He denied that this definition allowed special branch officers to make political judgments about alleged subversive elements in industry or other aspects of national life. He emphasised that the functions of the special branch in relation to public order were quite different from its functions in relation to subversion.
Special branch officers should only concern themselves in industrial matters to the extent necessary to maintain law and order and protect the state against subversion. Special branches were not interested in trade unionists as such.
Mr Prescott reacted angrily to the letter, claiming that it showed the wide discretion given to the special branches attached to each police force in deciding what constituted subversion or a threat to law and order. ‘They can do more or less whatever they like under the guidelines.’
He argued that, for example, special branch officers could photograph miners under suspicion that they might travel to a picket line, although chief constables now admitted that the tactic in the pits dispute of stopping cars of pickets on motorways well away from picket lines had sometimes been unwise.
Mr Brittan said in his letter: ‘Picketing would be of no interest to special branches if it were always conducted peacefully and within the law. But where picketing may pose a threat to public order it is entirely right that a chief officer should have access to any relevant information that his special branch can provide to help him determine an appropriate level of policing.’
The right of an individual to cooperate with a special branch officer in providing information or to refrain from answering questions were the same as in any other case where the police sought the assistance of a member of the public.
Mr Prescott said that many individuals approached by the special branch as potential informants felt it more difficult to refuse than they would in more normal circumstances, and that greater safeguards were therefore needed.
The Guardian, January 30th, 1985
David Pallister, ‘Hit-squad suspects deported to Syria / Four men deported from Britain’
Four men with Syrian passports who were arrested in a London hotel on Sunday by Special Branch officers on suspicion of being an anti-PLO hit squad were deported to Damascus yesterday.
It is believed that they were travelling on diplomatic passports without being accredited to the Syrian embassy in London.
The police feared that one of their targets may have been the PLO representative in London, Mr Faisal Aweida. He left last week for a trip to Tunis, the headquarters of the mainstream Fatah PLO organisation.
The police moved in on the men at the Cumberland Hotel. Five were arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, but one was later released.
It is not known whether the police had any evidence with which to charge the men with offences in Britain. Even if they had, the Home Office considers that deportation, before a substantive offence is committed, is preferable to a politically explosive trial.
The Guardian, January 31st, 1985
Stephen Cook, ‘Brittan defines Special Branch targets / Home Secretary speaks at Commons investigation committee into the Special Branch’
The Home Secretary, Mr Leon Brittan, last night offered political activists and other campaigners a do-it-yourself method of working out whether thespecial branch might have marked them down as subversives and put them under surveillance.
Such people should ask themselves two questions, he told the Commons home affairs committee inquiry into the special branch. Did they intend to harm the safety or well-being of the state, and did they intend to undermine or overthrow parliamentary democracy?
The answer to both questions had to be yes if they were to fall within the official definition of subversion and become legitimate targets of the special branch, Mr Brittan said. If the answer to only one question was yes, the person should not be a target.
It was not necessary for someone to have committed or be contemplating a criminal offence to be classed as a subversive, Mr Brittan said. It would be wrong to prevent the special branch investigating people whose real motives, under a cloak of respectability, were to harm our democracy.
He denied that this meant that anyone could be classed as a subversive at will by the special branch, and refused to elucidate how judgments about people’s motives might be made. But he agreed with committee members that special branch officers had a different difficult and sensitive task, and might sometimes make mistakes.
Mr Brittan said that he was broadly happy with the current double-headed definition of subversion, first drawn up by the Labour government in 1975. However, he would be glad to consider any new definition which the committee might come up with in their inquiry, which has now finished taking oral evidence.
The Home Secretary said that the present Government had been more liberal on special branch matters than any predecessor, and had tightened and published the guidelines under which it worked. Rules on record keeping, in particular, had been made more rigorous.
Mr Brittan rejected the suggestion of Mr David Winnick, Labour MP for Walsall, that there must be hundreds of thousands of people like Mrs Madeleine Haigh of Sutton Coldfield, who was apparently considered by some special branch officers to be a security risk.
Mrs Haigh, who was visited by special branch after writing to a paper opposing cruise missiles, was being repeatedly cited to fill a gap in evidence, Mr Briitan said. A mistake had been made and admitted in her case.
The Guardian, February 1st, 1985
Paul Brown, ‘MPs bar seamen / Parliamentary select commitee not to hear evidence’
Mr Jim Slater, general secretary of the National Union of Seamen, who wanted to give evidence to a Commons select committee of alleged Special Branch infiltration of his union issued an angry statement yesterday when he was told that it would not be allowed.
The home affairs select committee decided that it would take no more witnesses after hearing Mr Leon Brittan, the Home Secretary on Wednesday. Mr Slater said that the committee had heard evidence from the minister and chief constables.
A spokesman for the committee said that if Mr Slater would submit written evidence it would be circulated.
The Guardian, February 21st, 1985
David Hearst, ‘Kent, Scargill and Gostin ‘targets of MI5′ / Telephone tapping of dissident group alleged’
Allegations that leaders of the CND and the National Council for Civil Liberties had been subjected to surveillance were made by Cathy Massiter, a former MI5 intelligence officer, in a Channel 4 documentary banned from the screen last night.
Another former officer claimed that senior trade unionists had their phones tapped regularly.
Ms Massiter gave the names of leaders who, she said, were scrutinised by M15 in the 20/20 Vision programme, MI5’s Official Secrets. which the IBA ordered should not be shown.
The list included Mgr Bruce Kent, general secretary of CND, Barbara Egglestone, national organiser of Christian CND, Larry Gostin, general secretary of the NCCL, as well as former general secretary Patricia Hewitt, who is now an adviser to Mr Neil Kinnock and the NCCL’s former legal officer Harriet Harman, now a Labour MP.
In 1981, Ms Massiter, who had been recruited from a university library 11 years earlier, said she was put in charge of the surveillance of CND, even though the organisation was taken off the MI5’s list of subversive organisations
Ms Massiter said in the Channel 4 programme: ‘It was perceived as more than ever necessary that we had to be able to answer very precisely whatever questions we were asked about CND and its subversive penetration, which meant that our study had to be perhaps rather closer than it certainly would have been otherwise.’
To do this MI5 got one of its agents, Mr Harry Newton, a respected lecturer in trade union law and life-long activist in left wing political groups, to join CND in 1982. Newton, who died last year, had been the treasurer of the Institute for Workers’ Control, a left wing think tank supported by prominent trade union officials like Jack Jones and Alex Kitson and had been recruited by MI5 in the 1950s.
Newton filed regular reports about the workings and activities of CND headquarters. Ms Massiter said: ‘He (Newton), had a strong opinion that Kent might be a crypto-communist. I personally saw no justification for this whatsoever, but that certainly was the view that he expressed.’
She said that Newton’s reports were entered on MI5 files and the view that CND was controlled by extreme left-wing activists was passed on to Mr Michael Heseltine, the Defence Secretary, even though she found no evidence to support this view.
Confronted by the revelation that Mr Newton was an MI5 agent, and that he told M15 that Kent was a ‘crypto-communist,’ Mgr Kent said: ‘Well they have overpaid him in that case. I am not a crypto-communist. I don’t know what crypto means, I’m not a communist.’
Cathy Massiter also alleged that material gathered by MI5 was passed on to a counter propaganda unit set up by Mr Heseltine in March 1983 to combat the CND’s unilateralist line. The unit is known as DS19.
Instructed by her superior Ms Massiter passed on nonclassified information on any extreme left-wing affiliations of CND leaders. The passing of information from MI5, a security organtsation, to DSI9, a political body may be seen as a direct breach of MI5’s own code of conduct, known as the Maxwell Fyfe directive.
It states that it is essential that ‘the Security Service should be kept absolutely free from any political bias ‘or influence.’ Cathy Massiter said: ‘It did begin to seem to me that what the Security Service was being asked to do was to provide information on a party political issue.’
Shortly after DS19 received MI5’s report, Cathy Massiter was told that the MI5 would ‘consider favourably’ an application to tap the phone of a communist target in CND.
Mr Leon Brittan, the Home Secretary had said that the ‘lawful campaigning’ to change the mind of government about nuclear disarmament was an entirely legitimate activity, which did not fall within the criteria of the 1980 white paper on the role of the security forces. But in spite of these assurances, the programme said, Mr Brittan, authorised MI5 to tap the home telephone of a leading CND official in August 1983, two months after the general election.
The target chosen was John Cox, vice-president of CND and a number of the Communist Party. From him, MI5 obtained information about Bruce Kent, Joan Ruddock on ‘a wide range of topics that were concerning CND at the time.’ Cathy Massiter questioned whether John Cox posed a subversive threat to the state.
In 1963 Lord Denning wrote: ‘The Security Services are to be used for one purpose only, the defence of the realm.’ The Channel 4 programme also interviewed another former agent of MI5. whose identity in a closed guarded secret, who confirmed that senior trade unionists had their phone tapped regularly.
The agent said: ‘Mick McGahey, a prominent communist and mineworker’s leader and a member of the Scottish TUC was subjected to extensive surveillance, including the tapping of his home telephone. This gave rise to an office joke about the girls who had to listen to Mrs McGahey’s interminable telephone conversations with friends and relations, but we were able to get information from her chatting about his movements which he himself was careful to conceal.’
The MI5 bugged Arthur Scargill’s phone during the seventies. The agent said: ‘Scargill himself would occasionally shout abuse into the phone at the people who were tapping him.’ Asked whether Scargill’s phone was being tapped now, during the miners’ strike, Cathy Massiter said: ‘I would think it very likely, highly likely, in view of his particular history and his known political views.’
The programme also alleged that MI5 tapped prominent members of the Fire Brigades Union during the firemen’s strike, and a Ford union telephone during key pay negotiations. The purpose of these telephone taps was to find out what the union leader’s ‘bottom line’ was in the pay talks.
Another man, Mr Ronnie White, interviewed on the programme, claimed that he had been used by the Special Branch to infiltrate the National Front. As an SB agent he said he broke into the homes of selected targets and beat up blacks to establish his bone fides with the National Front.
The Guardian, February 22nd, 1985
James Naughtie and David Hearst, ‘DPP studies film report on MI5 / Director of Public Proscecutions Hetherington to view TV documentary on surveillance targets’
The Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Thomas Hetherington, yesterday launched an investigation into the Channel 4 documentary on the surveillance targets of M15, which the IBA banned because it feared prosecution under the Official Secrets Act.
The DDP has asked to see the film, but said that any further action would depend on its contents. A spokesman for the DPP said the inquiry was prorapted by an IBA statement, expressing fear that screening the film would be a criminal offence.
The Government stonewalled attempts by Opposition MPs to hold an emergency debate on the programme’s allegations, and refused to answer allegations that senior ministers had misused the security services for their own party political purposes.
Mr Leon Brittan, the Home Secretary, refused to discuss individual telephone taps, which it was alleged had been placed on Mr Arthur Scargill and Mr Mick McGahey, president and vice-president of the NUM, or claims that leading peace campaigners like Mgr Bruce Kent, general secretary of CND, had been been targets of M15 surveillance.
In a letter to Mr Steve Norris, Conservative MP for Oxford, Mr Brittan said it was still policy – as it had been under previous Governments – neither to confirm nor deny whether interception had taken place in any particular case.
He stressed that any telephone tap approved by ministers had to satisfy two demands – that the subject was engaging in activity threatening the safety or well being of the state and at the same time was seeking to undermine or overthrow parliamentary democracy by political, industrial or violent means.
However, he stopped short of repeating the statement he made to the parliamentary select committee on home affairs which was investigating thespecial branch. At a hearing on January 30, asked whether the CND fell within the category of a subversive organisation, he said: ‘No, CND does not attempt to undermine parliamentary democracy.’
In his letter, Mr Brittan said he was ‘fully satisfied’ that the security service was ‘absolutely free from any political bias or influence,’ but gave no reasons to support his view.
His remarks came as Opposition MPs reacted furiously to claims made in the Channel 4 documentary. Ms Harriet Harman, Labour MP for Peckham, who was named as the subject of an M15 surveillance, wrote to the Prime Minister demanding to see her MI5 file, asking what form the surveillance had taken, and who had access to her file.
She said: ‘It is very sinister if I have been subject to surveillance because I have argued for civil liberties. As a Member of Parliament I demand to see my file.’
Mr Larry Gostin, general secretary of the NCCL, whose offices had also been the subject of surveillance, it is alleged, wrote to Mr Brittan demanding to see his file, and asking for a full judicial inquiry into the security services.
Labour MPs challenged the Government to respond to the allegations made in the film but the indications last night were that there will be no change in Ministers’ traditional refusal to discuss the operation of MI5.
Instead, Mr Brittan pointed to the forthcoming bill on the interception of telecommunications and mail, and said proposed independent tribunal to study complaints would guarantee full investigation to anyone who believed there had been improper interception.
Relatives and friends of the late Mr Harry Newton, said by the programme to have infiltrated CND, were shocked and saddened by the allegations. In a statement they said: ‘Those who have indulged in this should now produce proper evidence, or withdraw their allegations and apologise for the distress they have caused.’
The Guardian, February 22nd, 1985
Leading Article: ‘Who polices the secret policemen? / MI5 and Special Branch political surveillance’
As the official denials grow ever more emphatic, so the evidence about MI5 and Special Branch political surveillance gets furiouser and curiouser. Time after time during the last ten years, Home Secretaries, junior ministers and sometimes even Prime Ministers have delivered weighty but essentially obscure statements to Parliament. ‘Difficult area. As frank as I can. Cannot go into detail. Dedicated public servants doing a vital job. No evidence of abuse. Minsters in complete control.’ And then, deep in the forest, a whistle blows. Sometimes a strangled cheep-cheep. Occasionally a stentorian reveille. And, once again, the dog-eared old brief is dusted off and is thrust into the hands of yet another minister of unimpeachable integrity. ‘Difficult area. As frank as I can ..’
There comes a time when the old platitudes won’t work any more. It is early days yet, but it looks as though that point has been reached with the as yet unbroadcast revelations of two former MI5 operatives about political targetting under this Government. The evidence of Ms Cathy Massiter and her unnamed former colleague is potentially the most important blow ever delivered to the credibility of the internal activities of the British national security state. As always with such revelations, there is a cynical, worldly-wise voice which says that there’s nothing here that we didn’t know and there’s not a lot that can be done about it anyway. But that won’t quite do, this time. Just look at the allegations of substance in the Channel 4 documentary. First, that trade unions, the peace movement and the National Council for Civil Liberties, all of which are legal, freely supported bodies, are designated subversive and are subjected to routine infiltration and surveillance. Second, that particular individuals in these movements are specifically targeted because they either are Communists, or were once, or might be, or have friends who are, were or might be Communists. Third, that such ground rules as do exist, whether public or secret, about who or what to watch and bug are flouted at the whim of the watchers and buggers. Fourth, that Mr Michael Heseltine knowingly used the security services and the Special Branch to spy on his political adversaries, in this case members of the CND, some of whose members are Tories. Fifth, that the Home Secretary, Mr Leon Brittan, somehow misled MPs in an answer about phone tapping of CND members.
Any one of these charges would be serious enough on its own. Added together, though, they are an exceptional indictment of this country’s internal surveillance practices. But they are not exceptional when compared with revelations in two jurisdictions where the policing and parliamentary systems are closely modelled on British methods. In South Australia, in 1977, a judicial investigation of the state Special Branch concluded that it had consistently concealed its activities from the state government. The inquiry found that the Branch’s files were based on ‘the unreasoned assumption that any persons who thought or acted less conservatively than suited the security force were likely to be potential dangers to the security of the state.’ The files were ‘irrelevant to security purposes and outrageously unfair to hundreds, perhaps thousands of loyal and worthy citizens.’ Is that not exactly what Ms Massiter is saying, too? Then also, in Canada in 1981, the McDonald Royal Commission on the internal security activities of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police found a similar situation. ‘The perception of threats to security and the concept of subversion were gradually extended to encompass a wide spectrum of groups associated with radical dissent, political, social service surveillance was not directed by any explicit government policy or guidelines. Nor was there explicit authorisation for a number of the investigative and countering activities developed over the years by the RCMP.’
In South Australia and Canada, the revelations destroyed the security services. New machinery was created, strictly limited to combatting genuine threats to the state, accountable to parliament. But it took major judicial inquiries to achieve it. What has Britain got to offer? A heavily circumscribed select committee inquiry into the Special Branch is now nearing completion. It hasn’t been allowed to look at the files and its recommendations will have no effective force. MI5, by contrast, does not even exist officially. Nothing is revealed about its structure, aims and methods save by a few dogged journalists and, as now, by the all too rare whistle blower. Additionally, there is now a Government bill to legalise telephone tapping. The bill, which creates and confines as many problems as it solves, comes up for second reading shortly. The Channel 4 programme’s allegations raise fresh doubts about the bill, because they imply that either the Home Secretary is misleading parliament about the true uses of communication interception, or else that he is himself being misled by the agencies which the bill purports to regulate. Either way, the bill will need drastic revision. And beyond that, there is now a compelling need for a full public inquiry, along royal commission lines, into internal national security surveillance by both the Special Branch and MI5.
The Guardian, February 23rd, 1985
James Naughtie and David Hearst, ‘Brittan challenged on phone-taps / Government urged to allow investigation into improper tapping by MI5’
The Government was challenged last night to allow a committee of senior Privy Councillors to investigate allegations of improper telephone tapping by the security service. MI5.
He said Mr Brittan should make an early statement to the Commons on the allegations made by former M15 officers in the documentary made for Channel 4’s 20-20 Vision programme, but not shown because of an Independent Broadcasting Authority ban.
Mr Cartwright said there should also be an investigation by Privy Councillors into the allegations that organisations and individuals were put under surveillance though they were no threat to national security.
The Attorney-General, Sir Michael Havers, was also pressed last night to give an assurance that Miss Cathy Massiter, the former M15 intelligence officer whose allegations formed the heart of the television documentary, would not be prosecuted under Section 2 of the Officials Secrets Act.
Mr David Winnick, Labour MP for Walsall North and a member of the select committee on home affairs which has investigated the Special Branch, said he would ask the Attorney-General about the likelihood of a prosecution, which could be used to muzzle debate in the Commons.
A senior legal official of the Director of Public Prosecutions viewed the film yesterday. A spokesman said that investigations were continuing.
The film’s producers said they were considering hiring a public theatre in London, so that the film could be shown to the public. Claudia Milne, co-producer of the documentary, said they intended to go on tour around Britain showing the film in big towns.
In his letter, Mr Cartwright was responding to a letter from Mr Brittan in which the Home Secretary reiterated the ground rules for telephone tapping by MI5 and repeated that he was fully satisfied that the security service was ‘absolutely free from political bias and influence.’
Mr Brittan stuck firmly to the Government’s refusal to confirm or deny whether any interception had taken place in a particular case. But he made a clear distinction between the surveillance of individuals and organisations in response to the allegations that trade unions and CND had been subject to surveillance.
‘I have made clear on a number of occasions that peaceful political campaigning to change the mind of the Government or people generally about political issues cannot constitute subversion.
‘This is particularly relevant because a number of the allegations have been in connection with CND. Similar considerations apply in relation to trade unions and their members,’ he said.
No individual need fear surveillance unless his or her options or intentions brought him within the strict criteria set out in the guidelines – a threat to the safety of the state, and an intention to undermine or overthrow parliamentary democracy.
Mr Cartwright said such a reassurances were not adequate in the light of the detailed allegations made in the programme, which has been seen by MPs. ‘Had I never seen the programme I might have been prepared to accept the Home Secretary’s assurances,’ Mr Cartwright said.
‘The evidence of the programme is that reassurances about the past activities of the security service had not been adequate. I cannot see why such reassurances should be blindly accepted for the future.’
Either guidelines had been broken without ministerial knowledge, or MI5 had been used for political purposes.
Mr Brittan said in his letter that he was anxious to assure MPs that telephone tapping was designed to deal with genuine threats to the state or from the actions of those people or organisations ‘which may be judged subversive to the state.’
Ministers will be questioned further about the programme next week. Many Opposition MPs are determined to try to force the Government to be more specific in its assurances, though there is determination in Whitehall to resist such invitations.
The traditional refusal to discuss in detail the operations of any of the security or intelligence agencies appears as strong as ever.
However, an opportunity for detailed discussion of the issues raised by the programme will come in the debate on the bill to regulate the interception of communications which is likely to have its second reading the week after next.
The committee stage of the bill, in particular, will give MPs a chance to discuss in detail the guidelines under which interception is authorised by ministers. The Government is proposing a tribunal to handle complaints about unauthorised interception.
According to the white paper on the interception of communications in the UK published earlier this month, 235 warrants for telephone interceptions authorised by the Home Secretary or the Scottish Secretary were in force at the end of last year.
A further 98 warrants signed by the Foreign Secretary were still in operation. During the year, 538 warrants had been signed, the white paper said.
The Guardian, February 26th, 1985
Ian Aitken, ‘Ministers avoid MI5 trial / Case of Cathy Massiter who gave information to Channel 4 TV on phone tapping’
The Government is unlikely to invoke the notorious section two of the Official Secrets Act against Miss Cathy Massiter, the former M15 intelligence officer who has alleged breaches of surveillance guidelines by the security services.
The signs last night were that law officers are not inclined to prosecute Miss Massiter for her disclosures in a banned Channel 4 programme about telephone tapping by M15 and the Special Branch. They are regarded as a breach of her undertakings as a government employee but her superior officers treated her reservations about her surveillance duties as a matter for a psychiatrist rather than a disciplinary officer.
Yet another prosecution under section two of the act, following so closely on the collapse of the prosecution of Mr Clive Ponting in the Belgrano case, would open the Government to further charges of heavy handedness in protecting state security.
Efforts to have the matter debated in the Commons; or to persuade ministers to answer Commons questions on the subject, were stonewalled at Westminster yesterday.
The Speaker rejected an Opposition application for an emergency debate on allegations in the programme, which was banned on security grounds by the Independent Broadcasting Authority.
It was clear in Whitehall yesterday that the Government intends to dismiss the row as a matter of interest only to limited groups like readers of the Guardian and Observer newspapers. It was insisted last night that the Prime Minister knew nothing about the controversy. since she had been visiting Washington at the time of the ban.
However, further efforts were being made at Westminster last night to ensure that as many MPs as possible are made aware of the allegations by two former M15 officers about the extent of surveillance of radical and leftwing organisations.
The film, which was to have been screened on the 20-20 Vision programme, will be shown for a third time in a Commons committee room today.
The Opposition demand for an emergency debate on the allegations was put to the Speaker yesterday by Mr Gerald Kaufman, the shadow home secretary. He described the claims as ‘of the utmost importance for freedom in a democratic society’ and condemned the IBA’s ban as ‘craven and sycophantic.’
Mr Kaufman said that everyone who was alarmed at the prospects of a big brother state wanted the allegations cleared up.
The Speaker rejected the application for a debate, arguing that it did not fall within the terms for emergency discussion laid down in Commons standing orders. He said that there would be a further opportunity to debate the matter when the Government’s bill to control telephone tapping was considered again.
David Hearst adds: The producers of the Channel 4 programme yesterday asked the IBA to reconsider the ban and give the reasons for it.
The IBA said last week that it had been advised by counsel that it would be committing a criminal offence under the Official Secrets Act if the programme were broadcast.
The producers of the programme, Ms Claudia Milne and Mr Geoffrey Seed, said last week that according to the legal advice Channel 4 had received the programme could be broadcast.
The Guardian, March 1st, 1985
‘Agenda: The spymasters who broke their own rules / Excerpts from banned TV documentary on the MI5 and Special Branch’
Although the two former MI5 employees, both women, are covered by the Official Secrets Act, they have decided, in the public interest, to talk about their work.
They don’t know each other. But during their service, they each became alarmed at the extent of MI5’s clandestine operations in Britain, spying on political parties, trade unionists and pressure groups like CND whose views are dissenting but not illegal.
One of the women was an MI5 clerk. She wants to remain anonymous but has sworn a long, detailed statement, revealing how MI5 targets certain trade union leaders and taps their telephones. She said:
‘I think it is totally unjust and immoral to direct these surveillance techniques and operations against decent and law abiding trade unionists and members of legitimate political parties and organisations like CND.’
The second woman, Cathy Massiter, was an intelligence officer who actually ran MI5’s investigation into CND. She’s left MI5 a year ago. She’s taken the unprecedented step of speaking publicly because of her worries about MI5’s secret operations against CND. She said:
‘We are violating our own rules. It seemed to be getting out of control. This was happening not because CND as such justified this kind of treatment but simply because of Political pressure; the heat was there for information about CND and we had to have it.’
In 1970, Cathy Massiter was a dissatisfied librarian. She went back to her university appointments board, seeking a new career. She explained:
‘They were aware of a job going with M o. D which they understood was to do with processing information. They knew very Little about it they couldn’t give me any details.
‘I got a letter from B branch, the personnel branch of MI5. not of course identifying themselves as such but saying could I come for an interview. Suddenly, I found myself a member of the staff of MI5.’
Most of MI5’s work isn’t glamorous – it’s painstaking and tedious. Cathy Massiter spent many years in F branch, which, among other things, studies left wing subversives in industry.
Much information about trade unionists is supplied by Special Branch officers, the policemen who work most closely with M15. Britain’s 1500 Special Branch officers investigate terrorism, espionage, sabotage and subversion. New Home Office guidelines published last December state: Subversive activities are those which threaten the safety or well being of the State and which are intended to undermine or overthrow Parliamentary democracy by political, industrial or violent means.
The programme dealt with two cases of Special Branch infiltration of legal organisations. One was by a man named White, recruited by the Special Branch after he became a member of the National Front. On the programme White admitted taking part ‘in beatings and burglary to protect his cover within the NF.
The other was described by a man named Mackie, a Manchester councillor, who explained that someone he knew infiltrated Friends of the Earth for theSpecial Branch. Councillor Mackie’s contact confirmed that he did work for Manchester Special Branch but refused to be interviewed about why he was monitoring FoE and also the National Council for Civil Liberties.
The Home Office guidelines go on: Data on individuals or organisations should not under any circumstances be collected or held solely on the basis that (such) a person or organisation supports unpopular causes.
They don’t say ‘unpopular’ with whom. However, NCCL was certainly unpopular with M15. During the mid 1970s, under a Labour government, an assistant director at M15 personally had NCCL targeted as a subversive organisation.
Cathy Massiter explained: ‘Anyone who was on the National Executive of NCCL, who worked for NCCL, or who was an active member to the degree of being, say, a branch secretary of NCCL, would be placed on permanent record and the routine enquiries would be instituted to identify such people and police inquiries were sought.’
Q What would you ask the police to do?
A’The police were actually sort of asked to identify branch secretaries in their area and report on the activities of the NCCL.’
Cathy Massiter remembers some of the many NCCL officials that MI5 recorded:
‘People Like Patricia Hewitt (presently an adviser to Neil Kinnock) who used to be its general secretary. Harriet Harmom (Labour MP) who used to be its legal officer. They would be put on record as communist sympathisers. Hewitt because of her close association, with somebody who was at the time a member of the Communist Party, a close personal association.’
Q But she’s now in close political association with the leader of the Labour Party.
Q But she’s done nothing wrong, nothing illegal with her political activity.
Q Yet MI5 has a file on her.
Q Do you think that’s right?
A’No, I don’t.’
Q But MI5 clearly do.
Q But how did it happen that an assistant director at MI5 was personally able to have NCCL targetted in this way?
A’What seems to have been the deciding factor was his own view that NCCL’s attacks on certain institutions such as the police um were deliberate attempts to undermine these institutions.’
Tapping telephones and infiltrating trade unions is carried out by MI5’s ‘F’ branch, now considerably expanded since the early 1970s. In her statement, the other former M15 employee, a clerk, says they tapped the phone of Duncan Campbell, a prominent writer on the defence and intelligence matters. They wanted to trace his sources. Left wing trade unionists were tapped too.
During the 1977 firemen’s strike, officials of the Fire Brigades’ Union were convinced that telephones at their strike headquarters in Leeds were tapped.
Soon after the firemen’s strike ended in 1978, the MI5 witness joined the Security Service as a clerk and began attending training sessions. She said:
‘A woman Lecturer told us, rather boastfully, that MI5 had long-term moles inside certain trade unions so deep that even their own families didn’t know their true purpose.
Cathy Massiter did not know the clerk but she began her Security Service career on the industrial desk in 1970. She confirms that MI5 does have moles inside trade unions:
In her sworn statement, the former M15 clerk reveals the names of some left-wing trade unionists targetted by the security service for telephone taps and even a break-in.
Margaret Witham of the Civil and Public Services Association:
Mick Duggan of the same union:
Derek Robinson, then a British Leyland shop steward:
Mick Costello, a Morning Star journalist and a Communist Party official:
Bill Dunn ‘and Gerry Cohen, two other Communist Party officials: and John Deason of the Socialist Workers Party.
Cathy Massiter was also aware of phone taps on trade unionists deemed subversive by MI5.
‘Whenever a major dispute come up, er, something at Fords or the mines, or Post Office, there was a big Post Office strike while I was there, immediately it would become a major area for investigation: what were the communists doing in respect of this particular industrial action and usually, an application for a telephone check would be taken out on the leading comrade in the particular union concerned.’
But according to the former MI5 clerk, certain telephones were tapped in the late 1970s, irrespective of any industrial dispute. She said:
‘Mick McGahey, a prominent communist and mineworkers’ leader and a member of the Scottish TUC, was subjected to extensive surveillance, ‘including the tapping of his home telephone.’
She learned that MI5 bugged McGahey’s London hotel and a cafe where he met other trade unionists. Arthur Scargill’s phone was tapped too during the late seventies: ‘Scargill himself would occasionally shout abuse into the phone at the people who were tapping him.’
Was it likely that Arthur Scargill’s phone would have been tapped during the latest miners’ strike? Cathy Massiter:
‘I would think it very likely, highly likely, in view of his particular history and his known political views.’
In late 1978, the Labour government was fighting for its life. Its ability to contain the unions and enforce its pay policy turned crucially on what happened to pay negotiations at the Ford Motor Company.
Syd Harraway, a communist, was then key shop stewards convener at Ford’s car plant in Dagenham. His phone was permanently tapped and the MI5 clerk transcribed his calls:
‘This seemed to be economic information from within a legally constituted trade union organisation which the Security Service and the government had no right to know.’
We asked Cathy Massiter to speculate on why such economic information might have been sought.
‘Well, I can only assume that it was requested because the Department of Employment was seeking in some form, this information. It surprises me in a way it was dome so blatantly.’
The only published document governing MI5’s conduct is called the Maxwell Fyfe Directive, named after the Home Secretary who issued it in 1952. It says:
‘No inquiry is to be carried out on behalf of any government department unless you are satisfied that an important public interest, bearing on the defence of the Realm .. is at stake.’
We asked Cathy Massiter if it would be legitimate for MI5 to pass on information about union pay negotiations, obtained via a phone tap, to a government department:
‘I would say not and it highlights very clearly, this extreme ambivalence between what the security service is there to do, what it perceives itself as being there to do, to study subversion, and what actually happens in practice which is in effect to broaden the study quite a long way beyond those basic guidelines.’
In her sworn statement, the former MI5 clerk says she was told that MI5 broke into the home of Ken Gill, a communist, general secretary of TASS, the white collar section of the engineering union, and a member of the TUC,s general council. His home telephone was tapped but he got even closer scrutiny during the 1970s when TASS, the draughtsmens’ union, planned to merge with the engineers, she said:
‘His home had been broken into and a bug placed inside a room to monitor talks between Mr Gill and other trade unionists prior to or during the merger. ‘I found This a sinister intrusion into a person’s civil rights and privacy.’
Ken Gill has confirmed to us that important meetings regarding the unions merger were held in his home during this period.
In 1981, Cathy Massiter was chosen to take over MI5’s investigation of leftwing subversive influence within CND. She felt such limited study of CND was legitimate. But she says increasing political pressure meant she ended up studying the organisation as a whole, and led to the Security Service breaking its own rules:
‘You couldn’t just concentrate on the subversive elements of CND, you had to be able to answer questions on the non subversive elements and the whole thing sort of began to sort of flow out into a very grey area.’
Q This is the dilemma presumably of not knowing someone as a subversive until you monitor him?
A’Yes there is some truth in that, but in that case you know they’re going to be monitoring all of us, aren’t they?’
Her first job was to read MI5’s files on CND. In the mid sixties, CND had been classified as a subversive organisation active members were recorded as communist sympathers and went into MI5’s records. MI5 has two thick files on Bruce Kent, CND’s general secretary. And Barbara Egglestone, national organiser of Christian CND, is on file, too.
Q She’s neither a communist nor a communist sympathiser. And yet MI5 has a file on her? Does that disturb you or anything?
A Very much, yes.’
People like Barbara Egglestone were filed as Communist sympathisers when CND was treated as a subversive organisation. But by the time Cathy Massiter began her study in 1981, CND itself was no longer on the subversive list.
According to the rules, that should have meant that active investigation stopped, and that membership of the organisation was no longer enough to make someone a subversive. MI5’s interest in CND should have been limited to studying the influence of Communists and Trotskysts within it. But the practice was different from the theory.
Cathy Massiter believed this was because of increasing political pressure.
By 1981, the peace movement had become a mass movement, mounting the biggest demonstration ever seen in Britain. A year later, MI5’s need for more inside information on CND became urgent.
Cathy Massiter said:
‘I think it was perceived as more than ever necessary that we had to be able to answer very precisely whatever questions we were asked about CND and its subversive penetration which meant that our study had to be perhaps rather closer than it certainly would have been otherwise.
‘One of the means that was used was the introduction of an agent, a chap who had worked for MI5 for many years, 20 or 30 years all together, into CND headquarters.’
The agent was Harry Newton, a 60-year-old lecturer in trade union studies and a life-long activist in left wing political groups. He’d been recruited by MI5 in the 1950s when he was a member of the Communist Party.
He became treasurer of the Institute for Workers’ Control, a left wing think tank supported by prominent trade union officials like Jack Jones and Alex Kitson and MPs such as Tony Benn.
Harry Newton joined CND in 1982 and his first job for MI5 was to attend CND’s annual conference.
Cathy Massiter said:
‘We sort of regarded it as very important to know as soon as possible after the conference who the new people on the national council were so that we could make our usual breakdown of how many subversives were on it and could sort of pass the information along to the interested parties at Whitehall. After that he became involved in CND headquarters.
‘What tended to come across was very general information about what was going on in CND headquarters. It was fairly low level stuff. I mean, he was able to chat to people like Bruce Kent, this sort of thing.
‘Harry was still very caught up in the idea of the international Communist conspiracy and therefore had a bit of a tendency to see the hand of the communists everywhere.
‘I mean, he, he had quite a strong opinion that Kent might be a krypto Communist, um, I personally saw no justification for this whatsoever but that certainly was the view that he expressed.’
Q That’s something that might find its way on to Bruce Kent’s MI5 file?
Harry Newton died in 1983. Cathy Massiter says there were other agents inside CND, put there by Special Branch around the country. Such infiltration reflected the State’s concern about the peace movement both ‘in terms of its susceptibility to political manipulation and as a public order issue. That concern was most acute in 1983, election year. In January, Michael Heseltine had taken over as Defence Secretary.
In March, Mr Heseltine set up a special unit called Defence Secretariat or DS19, to combat CND’s unilateralist propaganda.
Cathy Massiter became concerned after a senior official from the counter propaganda unit DSI9 approached her boss at MI5.
Cathy Massiter said:
‘What they appear to have requested was information about the subversive political affiliations of leading members of CND including members of the national council and people working for CND.
‘It seems to have been part of erm what DS19 felt, that they required in order to fulfil the brief that they had been given by the Defence Minister Mr Heseltine and they appeared to feel that MI5 were the best people to supply this information.’
After the approach from DS19, Cathy Massiter was instructed by her superiors to go through MI5’s files, extracting non-classified information on any extreme left wing affiliations of CND’s leaders. She did so, and wrote a report Which was passed on to DS19. But why was she concerned by this episode?
‘It was a very important party political issue.
‘Unilateral nuclear disarmament had been adopted as a policy by the Labour Party, a general election was in the offing and it had been clearly stated that the question of nuclear disarmament was going to be an important issue there. It did begin to seem to me that what the Security Service was being asked to do was to provide information on a party political issue.
Q Do you think that’s a legitimate function of MI5 and someone like you, an intelligence officer?
A’It’s clearly not a legitimate function because it directly contravenes the charter.’
The Maxwell Fyfe directive says that it is essential that ‘ .. the Security Service should be kept absolutely free from any political bias or influence.’
Cathy Massiter said:
‘I did express my concern on this issue and I know other people did so too, who were aware of the work that I was doing. The difficulty is that having expressed one’s view, there is no way of taking it any further. If your view is not accepted you’re simply left with the option of accepting the situation or of course ultimately resigning, if you feel that strongly about it.’
Before a Home Secretary signs a phone tap warrant for MI5 he has to be sure the case involves:
Major subversive, terrorist or espionage activity:
The information gathered must relate directly to the defence of the Realm:
Normal methods of investigation must have been tried and Failed or be unlikely to succeed.
Mr Brittan, like all previous Home Secretaries, wouldn’t confirm or deny that a specific target had been tapped. But he did say this:
‘There is no doubt that lawful campaigning to change the mind of the Government about nuclear disarmament whether unilateral or otherwise is an entirely legitimate activity which does not fall within the strict criteria of the 1980 white paper.’
Cathy Massiter says the possibility of tapping a Communist CND official’s phone was first discussed at MI5 the previous April:
‘We were prepared to go along with the tap before the general election. But it was deferred because of the election as it was felt that it it was too sensitive a matter to go ahead with at the time. In fact, it actually went on, I think, in August 1983.’
Q Why should they feel it was sensitive; if it was important for MI5 to tap someone’s phone, surely it should not be a consideration that the general election’s coming up.
A’Well, it was, as I have said, a very sensitive party political issue in a general election and if it ever did come out that a tap had been on at that time, the motivation for the tap might have been strongly questioned.’
Cathy Massiter did question the need for a tap but she lost the internal argument. So who did she choose?
‘John Cox, the vice-president of CND. He was the obvious candidate. He lived in Wales and therefore there would need to be a fair amount of telephone communication between him and CND headquarters. Cox was already well known as a member of the Communist Party. He’d been involved in CND practically since its inception.
Q So what additional information on John Cox and his activities did MI5 get from their tap?
A’Not a lot really that we didn’t already know, a hit more detail perhaps.’
Q He would be routinely in contact with Bruce Kent, Joan Ruddock and CND?
A’There was quite frequent contact yes.’
Q So to some extent, you had no need to tap their telephones?
A’Not really, no one was getting information about their attitudes on quite a wide range of topics that were concerning CND at the time.
‘I’ve never been a member of CND, I’m not currently a member. I have a lot of sympathy with CND. I don’t know that I fully accept their arguments for total unilateral nuclear disarmament by the United Kingdom but I do think the issues that they raise are very important.’
Cathy Massiter left MI5 about a year ago. She’s talked publically about those aspects of MI5’s activities against alleged subversives which she feels breached the Maxwell Fyfe directive – not its work against terrorism and espionage which she fully supports. However, she’s still covered by the Official Secrets Act so Why has she spoken out?
‘Because I became very concerned during my years studying CND with this question of the definition of what is the legitimate area of study of the Security Services, particularly in respect of subversion because I think it ought to be more clearly defined.
‘There ought to be clearer guidelines and I think the only way of achieving this is to get a degree of opening up of the Security Service and some kind of Parliamentary accountability in the end, for it.’
Guardian Weekly, March 3rd, 1985
Who polices Britain’s secret policemen?
AS the official denials grow ever more emphatic, so the evidence about M15 and Special Branch political surveillance gets furiouser and curiouser. Time after time during the last ten years, Home Secretaries, junior ministers, and sometimes even Prime Ministers have delivered weighty but essentially obscure statements to Parliament. “Difficult area. As frank as I can. Cannot go into detail. Dedicated public servants doing a vital job. No evidence of abuse. Ministers in complete control.” And then, deep in the forest, a whistle blows. Sometimes a strangled cheep-cheep, occasionally a stentorian reveille. And, once again, the dog-eared old brief is dusted on and is thrust into the hands of yet another minister of unimpeachable integrity. “Difficult area. As frank as I can.”
There comes a time when the old platitudes won’t work any more. It is early days yet, but it looks as though that point has been reached with the as yet unbroadcast revelations of two former M15 operatives about political targetting under this Government. The evidence of Ms Cathy Massiter and her unnamed former colleague is potentially the most important blow ever delivered to the credibility of the internal activities of the British national security state. As always with such revelations, there is a cynical, worldly-wise voice which says that there’s nothing here that we didn’t know and there’s not a lot that can be done about it anyway. But that won’t quite do, this time. Just look at the allegations of substance in the Channel 4 documentary. First, that trade unions, the peace movement and the National Council for Civil Liberties, all of which are legal, freely supported bodies, are designated subversive and are subjected to routine infiltration and surveillance. Second, that particular individuals in these movements are specifically targeted because they either are Communists, or were once, or might be, or have friends who are, were or might be Communists. Third, that such ground rules as do exist, whether public or secret, about who or what to watch and bug are flouted at the whim of the watchers and buggers. Fourth, that Mr Michael Heseltine has knowingly used the security services and the Special Branch to spy on his political adversaries, in this case members of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, some of whose members are Tories. Fifth, that the Home Secretary, Mr Leon Brittan, somehow misled MPs in an answer about phone tapping of CND members.
Any one of these charges would be serious enough on its own. Added together, though, they are an exceptional indictment of this country’s internal surveillance practices. But they are not exceptional when compared with revelations in two jurisdictions where the policing and parliametary systems are closely modelled on British methods in South Australia, in 1977, a judicial investigation of the state Special Branch concluded that it had consistently concealed its activities from the state government. The inquiry found that the Branch’s files were based on “the unreasoned assumption that any persons who thought or acted less conservatively than suited the security force were likely to be potential dangers to the security of the state”. The files were “irrelevant to security purposes and outrageously unfair to hundreds, perhaps thousands of loyal and worthy citizens”. Is that not exactly what Ms Massiter is saying, too? Then also, in Canada in 1981, the McDonald Royal Commission on the internal security activities of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police found a similar situation. “The perception of threats to security and the concept of subversion were gradually extended to encommpass a wide spectrum of groups associated with radical dissent, political, social and constitutional change and the use of demonstrations and confrontations for political purposes,” it concluded. “Security service surveillance was not directed by any explicit government policy or guidelines. Nor was there explicit authorisation for a number of the investigative and countering activities developed over the years by the RCMP.”
In South Australia and Canada, the revelations destroyed the security services. New machinery was created, strictly limited to combatting genuine threats to the state, accountable to parliament. But it took major judicial inquiries to achieve it. What has Britain got to offer? A heavily circumscribed select committee inquiry into the Special Branch is now nearing completion. It hasn’t been allowed to look at the files and its recommendations will have no effective force. M15, by contrast, does not even exist officially. Nothing is revealed about its structure, aims, and methods save by a few dogged journalists and, as now, by the all too rare whistle-blower. Additionally, there is now a Government bill to legalise telephone tapping. The bill, which creates and confirms as many problems as it solves, comes up for second reading shortly. The Channel 4 programme’s allegations raise fresh doubts about the bill, because they imply that either the Home Secretary is misleading Parliament about the true uses of communication interception, or else that he is himself being misled by the agencies which the bill purports to regulate. Either way, the bill will need drastic revision. And beyond that, there is now a compelling need for a full public inquiry, along royal commission lines, into internal national security surveillance by both the Special Branch and M15.
The Guardian, March 5th, 1985
James Naughtie, ‘Senior Tories press PM on phone-tapping / Pressure to set up Parliamentary committee to investigate security and intelligence services’
Former ministers and senior Conservative backbenchers are putting strong private pressure on the Government to set up a Parliamentary committee to scrutinise the security and intelligence services.
The controversy about telephone tapping and the barrage of allegations of improper conduct by the authorities has convinced influential MPs with experience of security matters that the Prime Minister will have to abandon her opposition to an independent committee with access to information about the operations of MI5. MI6 and the special branch.
It is now clear that even some of Mrs Thatcher’s closest colleagues are joining former senior ministers in arguing that such a step is not only necessary to allay public anxiety, but would work in the interests of those responsible for security.
The allegations of breaches of MI5 guidelines made in the banned documentary produced for Channel 4’s 20/20 Vision programme, are the subject of a report due to be presented to Downing Street today.
Tomorrow, the Commons will debate the second reading of the Interception of Communications Bill.
The bill, which advocates a tribunal to hear complaints of improper telephone tapping of the interception of mail, will provide an opportunity for MPs critical of the existing guidelines to challenge ministers.
The Government has decided to take the committee stage of the bill to the floor of the House instead of to a small commit tee. Such a general discussion will inevitably raise more awk ward questions for ministers, but there is strong pressure for open discussion.
Mrs Thatcher and the Home Secretary, Mr Leon Brittan have refused – like their predecessors – to divulge details of the surveillance of individuals. However, the prospect of a series of debates giving MPs an opportunity to question ministers on the operation of MI5 in particular is causing concern among senior Conservatives.
Some of them believe that the result will be the formation of a committee of senior Privy Councillors to exert some form of scrutiny on security matters. They argue that such a step is essential to curb public discussion about the operation of the security authorities.
As a result, they are presenting the same argument as many of those who have been most critical of MI5 and other organisations.
Lord Bridge’s report will deal with the specific allegations made in the Channel 4 documentary – which has been seen by many MPs in private showings – and it was said last night that it would address the question of the classifcation of individuals or organisations as subversive.
Mr Neil Kinnock, the Labour leader, wrote to Mrs Thatcher yesterday to say that he believed she was in conflict with her Home Secretary in appearing to limit the scope of the inquiry to interceptions made under the authorisation of the Home Secretary.
Mr Brittan told the Commons last week that the question of anyone being falsely classified would come directly under the inquiry conducted by Lord rige ‘as he will cover interceptions contrary to the criteria.’
In a letter to Mr Kinnock, Mrs Thatcher sai the inquiry would not cover allegations that interceptions had taken place without proper authorisation.
Mr Kinnock’s complaint that this presented an unacceptable contradiction was rejected in Whitehall last night on the grounds that Lord Bridge would investigate the allegations made in the documentary.
The difficulty for the Government is that the report is expected to deal with the allegations in general rather than specific terms, and that it will therefore raise new protests.
The Environment Secretary, Mr Patrick Jenkin, was accused last night of keeping files listing the personal, financial and matrimonial details of Labour councillors for use in the Government’s political campaign against them.
Ms Harriet Harman, Labour MP for Peckham, tabled Commons questions asking whether Mr Jenkin’s department had collected information on councillors, using civil servants, special branch officers or the security service, MI5.
She denounced such’ snooping’ and said that if the allegations passed to her were true, it was a grotesque way for the government to proceed.
One former minister familiar with the operation of the Special Branch and MI5 said last night he believed it was highly unlikely that the organisations would participate in a collection of such information for an overtly political purpose.
He added that it was probable that such files were drawn up from information gathered from purely political sources
The Guardian, March 5th, 1985
Leading Article: ‘The parts politicians can’t reach / Bridge report on phone-tapping’
Inevitably, and rightly, a Conservative government and a Conservative Home Secretary are in the dock over phone-tapping and control of the security services. It is Mr Leon Brittan who has taken temporary refuge behind Lord Bridge’s onanistic quickie inquiry into the abuse of surveillance guidelines. It is Mr Brittan who is tomorrow bringing forward an obviously ineffective bill on phonetapping. And it will be Mr Brittan, Sir Michael Havers and the Prime Minister who must now be made to face the fill seriousness of the Massiter allegations about MI5.
Nevertheless, the opposition parties start from a disadvantage as they begin this chase. All the former Home Secretaries who still sit in the Commons (Messrs Jenkins, Callaghan and Rees) repose on the opposition benches. And each of them has presided over the sale system which now threatens to come apart in Mr Brittan’s hands. In particular, the Callaghan government’s much blotted copybook was soiled by the abuses of the secret state. It was Mr Rees who, as Home Secretary, got rid of Messrs Agee and Hosenball on the basis of undisclosed and highly suspect security information. It was Mr Rees who presided over the surveillance operation against the offices of the National Council for Civil Liberties (whether or not he authorised it) that led to the arrest and prosecution of Aubrey, Berry and Campbell. And it was Mr Rees, along with Dr Owen at the Foreign Office, who deported Ms Astrid Proll.
Mr Rees has responded to the Massiter revelations in an illuminating way. He has denied, quite categorically, that the alleged surveillance of the fire brigade and Ford union leaders took place. That is to say, he has denied that it took place on his authority. Unfortunately, and this is the whole point, that is not the same thing. It does not mean that Mr Rees is a wicked man, or even a naive one. Quite the contrary. To his credit, as Home Secretary, he was the first holder of the office to allow parliamentary debate on the Special Branch (albeit only under pressure from Mr Robin Cook). Yet what Mr Rees said in those debates raised more questions than he answered. ‘The Special Branch collects information on those who I think cause problems for the state,’ he declared in March 1978. This may have been true or it could have been a top of the head folie de grandeur. Mr Brittan, being a lawyer, puts it more circumspectly when he talks about the Special Branch and MI5. The trouble, though, remains the same. Nobody, and on a generous interpretation this includes the Home Secretary, really knows the truth. A structure in which the whole of MI5 (however many people and Wing systems that includes) and the Branch are mysteriously ‘accountable’ to one individual is no structure of accountability at all. And no judge can bridge the gap either.
Both Mr Neil Kinnock and his shadow Home Secretary, Mr Gerald Kaufman have now made clear that it will all be different once they have got their hands on the levers. Well, we have, alas, heard that before. And not just from Labour leaders. The point here is not whether Mr Brittan or Mr Rees is the tougher chap, nor whether Mr Kaufman would be any better. They are all talented politicians with the credentials of adequate control. The point is that the system itself is an impossible one, imposing unworkable demands upon any individual Home Secretary. That is why, at the end of the Massiter affair, it will be necessary for any future government (or even for this one, which allowed greater frankness about security matters than its predecessors) to legislate. Legislate, what is more, on the basis of far better facts that Lord Bridge will ever provide. So far, the whole security area has been looked at piecemeal. A reform of Section 2 here (or not, as the case may be). A statute on phone-tapping there. No party has approached the subject in the round. The nearest attempt has been the Labour Party’s policy document of 1983 on the security services, which sensibly proposed a new Espionage Act to replace Section 1 of the Official Secrets Act and a Security Act to put the secret agencies and their surveillance techniques on a statutory footing. That could be a start. But all the parties still have detailed thinking to do, and all must recognise the errors of their previous ways. We have moved – and Miss Massiter has helped that movement – to some final realization that things have to be fundamentally changed. And the fundamentals of a fresh start apply right across the spectrum of politics.
The following edition of 20/20 Vision was finally broadcast on Channel 4 on March 8th 1985, and contained the revelations by former MI5 officer Cathy Massiter about spying upon members of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
The Guardian, March 9th, 1985
David McKie, ‘Ministers to reinforce security service morale’
The Government is expected to use Tuesday’s debate on the Interception of Communications Bill to re-emphasise its confidence in the security services and to remind the nation how much it has owed to their unseen protection.
Senior ministers are riled by the continuing assumption that the services are now out of control, though they continue to assume that the apprehensions which have surfaced since the disclosures of Ms Cathy Massiter are confined to a relatively small and unrepresentative section of opinion.
The television programme which featured Ms Massiter, MI5’s Official Secrets, which was originally banned from transmission by the IBA, was screened last night.
Ministers claim there is little evidence of any national surge of concern in their postbags or constituency encounters. They are disturbed, however, by the effect of recent events on the morale of the security services and the Home Secretary, Mr Leon Brittan, is likely to use his speech in Tuesday’s debate to try to restore that morale.
Mr Brittan gave evidence to the home affairs select committee on January 30 about the work of the Special Branch, which has a crucial role in the work of the security services. He said then: ‘It is the individual case where something goes wrong that is drawn to people’s notice and dwelt upon by some people, but what are less known are the successes of the Special Branch.
‘It cannot be known because it cannot be proclaimed. When hundreds of innocent people are saved from a bomb because of the information the Special Branch has obtained, which enables them to step in before the bomb actually explodes. that is something I cannot talk about.’
The Liberal peer, Lord Wigoder, will be asking the House of Lords on March 20 to demand the scrapping of Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act.
The Globe and Mail (Canada), March 9th, 1985
Leslie Plommer, ‘Britain’s spymasters under surveillance’
THESE ARE unhappy times for the people in charge of the security of the British realm, as suspicion, normally their own stock-in-trade, is being turned on them in an unwelcome spate of publicity.
No sooner had the prolonged debate over Government secrecy subsided after last month’s acquittal of senior civil servant Clive Ponting who leaked information to an MP in the Belgrano affair, than a sensational television documentary seized the spotlight with allegations of illegal surveillance of trade union and anti-nuclear leaders by the domestic intelligence agency MI5.
With press photographers poking their lenses through the herbacious borders at the suburban home of MI5 Director-General Sir John Jones, and senior parliamentary figures from all parties demanding closer scrutiny of the security services, the current controversy over what Liberal Party leader David Steel dubbed ‘the secret state’ comes at a bad moment for the Conservative Government.
It has led directly to postponement in Parliament this week of the second reading of a proposed law, the Interception of Communications Bill, whose critics were suddenly supplied by the television documentary with dramatic evidence supporting their fears about several of the bill’s provisions and omissions.
The proposed law codifies for the first time criteria under which four senior Cabinet ministers may authorize telephone and mail tapping, and establishes a tribunal to hear complaints by people who believe they are being improperly tapped.
In contrast to U.S. practice, it prohibits use of any information gathered in this way in court. Such interceptions are solely to assist investigations.
However, the bill has no regulation of covert surveillance using long-distance microphones or room bugs – methods that can render traditional tapping obsolete. And it omits restrictions on the scope of a ministerial warrant to tap.
Since 1980, roughly 500 such authorization warrants have been issued annually on the British mainland. What this figure conceals, however, is that one such warrant can be extended to take in various contacts or relatives of the person tapped. The bill ignores this.
The proposed law also puts economic espionage on paper for the first time.
To date, national security and serious crime have been the only publicly admitted criteria for ministers to authorize communications taps. Now the ‘well-being of the economy’ is to join the official list, meaning that the lawful conversations of oil and currency dealers can be tapped.
When the bill’s contents first became known last month, parliamentary critics were assured by Home Secretary Leon Brittan that this criterion would not be used to tap, for example, union leaders conducting strikes damaging to the British economy.
The television documentary, entitled MI5’s Official Secrets, provided evidence that this was untrue, and that the intelligence agency was also being used by Defence Minister Michael Heseltine for political purposes.
The documentary was banned just before its planned showing on the Independent Television network (ITV) on Feb. 20 when the supervisory Independent Broadcasting Authority ruled that the film could be a breach of Britain’s Official Secrets Act, the same statute under which Mr. Ponting was unsuccessfully prosecuted for leaking documents on the 1982 Falklands War.
Furious producers quickly arranged screenings for MPs and the press, and the uproar began.
In the film, two former MI5 employees made a damning series of allegations against the intelligence agency. One was unnamed. The other was Cathy Massiter, aged 37, an MI5 officer for 14 years who from 1981 until her resignation in 1983 headed the agency’s surveillance unit monitoring the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) – an old and broadly based British protest group that opposes nuclear weapons.
Miss Massiter – who says she was sent to a psychiatrist after expressing concerns to her superiors about MI5 actions in several areas – accused the agency of breaking its own charter by tapping telephones of peace-movement leaders to provide ministers with political ammunition.
Falsely labelling some of these people as ‘subversive’ to get permission to tap them.
Expanding surveillance greatly in the ’70s to include new ‘soft’ targets such as lawyers, journalists and pressure groups.
Miss Massiter and her anonymous colleague said in interviews that surveillance included not only CND leaders and officers of the National Council for Civil Liberties, against whom there was no evidence supporting a ‘subversive’ label, but also trade union figures. During trade union disputes in the ’70s, the unnamed agent said, MI5 tapped the phones of Scottish miners’ leader Mick McGahey, a Communist, and militant Arthur Scargill, now president of the National Union of Mineworkers, to learn their strike strategies and bargaining positions.
Mrs. McGahey’s ‘interminable telephone conversations with friends and relations’ became something of an MI5 office joke, while ‘Mr. Scargill would occasionally shout abuse into the phone at the people who were tapping him.’
During the same period, it was alleged, MI5 tapped the striking Fire Brigades Union in 1977; a union convenor’s telephone during Ford Motor Co. pay negotiations in 1978; officials of a civil service union; a British Leyland union shop steward; and Shelter, a housing pressure group.
Asked whether Mr. Scargill’s phone was tapped during the recent year-long British coal strike, Miss Massiter said: ‘I would think it very likely, highly likely, in view of his particular history and his known political views.’
With the television documentary – whose accusations cover former Labor governments as well as the present Conservative one – following hot on the heels of the Ponting secrets acquittal, state machinery was forced into action.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher ordered an inquiry into the television allegations by Lord Bridge of Harwich, head of the Security Commission.
His brief report, submitted this week, provoked a Commons outcry that forced the Government to delay debate for a week on the phone-tapping bill for fear of chaotic parliamentary scenes.
‘I am satisfied, after full examination of all the relevant documents, that no warrant for interception has been issued in contravention of the appropriate criteria,’ the former Lord Justice of Appeal reported.
Echoing the views of many MPs, Labor’s home affairs spokesman, Gerald Kaufman, responded: ‘The Bridge report, if it can be dignified by such a description, is an insult and an outrage.’ Lord Bridge had been given narrow guidelines and therefore supplied an inevitable non-answer to the issues raised about MI5, Mr. Kaufman pointed out.
He had not been asked about people tapped after being falsely classified as subversives; he had not been asked about whether the political and personal lives of people in non-subversive organizations were under investigation; he had not been asked about party-political use of the intelligence service; he had not been asked about infiltration of lawful organizations.
Mr. Steel, the Liberal leader, added that the report failed to deal with unauthorized ‘freelance’ activity by MI5 or the problem of blanket warrants allowing multiple taps of a legitimate organization.
The controversy over the Bridge report has forged a powerful parliamentary alliance including many senior MPs and former ministers supported from the wings by some in the present Cabinet, which now is pressing for an independent parliamentary committee – possibly composed of Privy Councillors – to be set up to oversee Britain’s security and intelligence apparatus.
In the meantime, the legal threat against the television film has been lifted. It was screened yesterday after the Director of Public Prosecutions recommended against prosecution under the Official Secrets
The reluctance to prosecute appears to stem not only from Government concerns of more dirty laundry being aired in court, but also – according to The Times of London – because some of the program’s allegations are true.
Guardian Weekly, March 10th, 1985
Madeline Haigh, Walmley Road, Sutton Coldfield: Letter ‘When the IBA uses its umbrella in a climate of secrecy’
The revelations by Cathy Massiter about MI5 and the Special Branch confirm the gravest targets of surveillance. Her information makes nonsense of most of the answers given by Sir Philip Knights and his senior officers in response to questions on my own case, asked by me, my solicitor, and members of the West Midlands police committee.
Ms Massiter’s assertions contradict the reassurances given by serving chief constables and by the Home Secretary in evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee investigation into the Special Branch. Either the police chiefs and Leon Brittan are ignorant of the widespread breaches of the official guidelines, or they have deliberately misled a parliamentary committee.
Cathy Massiter states that Leon Brittan signed a warrant to authorise the tapping of John Cox’s telephone, even though he knew that Mr Cox did not satisfy the stated classification of “subversive.” How could this happen? — Was the Home Secretary not aware of what he was signing?
Or was he on holiday at the time?
The Guardian, March 12th, 1985
Colin Brown, ‘Special Branch ‘acquittal’ angers Labour / Inquiry into intelligence services’
Changes in an all-party select committee draft report, which gives the all-clear to the Special Branch, will be demanded by Labour MPs tomorrow.
The private meeting of the home affairs select committee promises to be a stormy affair. Labour members of the committee are angry that the draft report is so ‘anodyne’ that it will undermine their reputations.
The Labour MPs were demanding that the committee should reopen its inquiry into the Special Branch – regarded as the operational arm in Britain of MI5 – after the revelations in the 20/20 Vision film MI5’s Official Secrets.
The draft report will be considered at tomorrow’s meeting in the light of the debate on the bill on telephone tapping in the Commons today, and Labour MPs are hoping that the controversy may have changed the minds of some Tory MPs on the committee.
One of the committee members, Mr David Winnick, Labour MP for Walsall North, rejected assurances he was given by the Home Secretary, Mr Leon Brittan, last night in written Commons answers about some of the allegations made in the film.
Asked about reports that Mr Stanley Bonnett, former editor of the CND magazine Sanity, had supplied information to Special Branch officers, Mr Brittan said the functions covering the branches were set out in guidelines published on December 19, 1984.
‘I have made it clear on a number of occasions that peaceful political campaigning to change the mind of the government or of people generally about the validity of nuclear disarmament does not come within the definition of subversion which is given in the guidelines.’
Mr Winnick said: ‘In my view, until these guidelines are changed, it will mean such activities will continue even though we find them distasteful.’
Mr Winnick said the Home Secretary’s response was like the Lord Bridge inquiry into telephone tapping – it did not answer the core questions which had been raised.
David Hearst adds: Mr Roy Jenkins, MP, a home secretary in two Labour governments last night said he was ‘sceptical’ of the value of MI5’s role in monitoring political organisations.
Mr Jenkins said he was quite happy to allow Lord Bridge to see the papers relating to his two periods as home secretary, from 1965 to 67 and 1974 to 76. Lord Bridge’s report, which Mrs Thatcher ordered in response to allegations by Miss Massiter, cleared successive government of breaking the rules on telephone tapping.
Mr Jenkins refused to discuss specific allegations, in keeping with the practice of home secretaries never to talk about details of MI5’s role. However, he did say that he now questioned MI5’s role in monitoring political organisations.
Its controversial F branch, for which Miss Massiter worked, checks the activities of political parties and trade unionists.
The Guardian, March 13th, 1985
Leading Article: ‘Tapdancing your way out of a jam / Allegations of criminal activities by the security services’
Yesterday afternoon’s speech by the Home Secretary, Mr Leon Brittan, on telephone tapping and the security services positively groaned with reassurances. There was Lord Bridge’s report to rely on. That had shown that all the authorised warrants since 1970 were authorised warrants. Thank you, Lord Bridge, for that. But there was more. Mr Brittan himself had found time in a busy schedule to carry out his own inquiries. He had looked to see if the security service had been tapping anyone without authorisation. And he has found that they had not. The net effect of these assurances is, therefore, that MI5 and the Special Branch are in the clear as far as the Home Office is concerned. And yet what appear at first sight to be a watertight set of assurances is, on closer examination, distinctly unseaworthy. The inference from Mr Brittan’s speech is that all the phone tapping carried out in this country by the security services is done under warrants and, in turn, that all the warrants are issued in accordance with the definitions which ministers have repeatedly endorsed over the past decade. That brings the argument back to the definition of subversion first published by the Callaghan government, namely of activities which ‘threaten the safety or well being of the state and which are intended to undermine or overthrow parliamentary democracy by political industrial or violent means.’
Put that definition together with the allegations in the 20/20 Vision Programme, MI5’s Official Secrets. There we were told that Mr Brittan himself had authorised the tapping of the phone of Mr John Cox, a Communist Party member who is also the vice-president of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Yesterday, Mr Brittan again went out of his way to say that peaceful opposition to the Government’s defence policies, i. e. being active in CND, is not a tappable offence. But he also said that membership of a campaign, or a trade union, could not confer an immunity from tapping. Result,you can tap Mr Cox’s phone because he is a member of the CP and, hey presto, you are plugged into the phone conversations of Monsignor Kent, Mrs Ruddock and the rest of them. And, as a result, you also swell what 20/20 Vision described as the ‘two thick files’ on Mgr Kent. Thus the assumptions about Communists are the key which unlocks the door to the files of CND. And not just of CND. Take also the example of the National Council of Civil Liberties. Its fonner general Secretary, Ms Patricia Hewitt, lives with Mr Bill Birtles, who was a Communist for some years. Result, the Communist connection is used to justify the keeping of files on Ms Hewitt and, in all probability, to sanction the occasional phonetapping of the NCCL’s headquarters.
All this is quite acceptable to most Conservative backbenchers. These MPs, who so often proclaim their devotion to individual freedom, have sat on their hands ever since the 20/20 Vision allegations were made. There are some exceptions, such as Mr Steven Norris, who deserve credit for their independence. Yet of those who dutifully went through the lobbies in support of Mr Brittan last night, all but a few treat the issue with indifference. The comments of Sir Anthony Kershaw, one of those anonymous influential senior Tory backbenchers who bob up in Westminster reports, are not unrepresentative. ‘If he is not watching these people, I want my money back.’ That also seems to be the approach of the Tories in the Home Affairs Select Committee. Their love of liberty is currently on display in the way they are stifling the committee’s investigation of the Special Branch and seeking the production of a bromide report. There’s nothing wrong, they all cry. Even if there were a few rule benders, they whisper in clubland, MI5 is so bureaucratic that nobody would be greatly harmed by the over-enthusiasm. If there was a problem we would get to hear of it. But that is just what has happened, isn’t it? That is precisely why the 20/20 Vision programme is so important. The former MI5 officers have made allegations which are not being denied and which remain the central issue in spite of all Mr Brittan’s clever legal footwork. Nothing that Mr Brittan said yesterday, or that Lord Bridge said last week, has laid a glove on Ms Massiter’s allegations. That’s why Mr Roy Jenkins is right to thunder from the Chilterns. And that is also why, away from the limelight, Mr Brittan is currently planning a private shake-up of the security services that, intrinsically, gives the lie to yesterday’s bland reassurances.
The Guardian, March 26th, 1985
The Day in Politics: ‘MI5 chief will not be quizzed by MP’s’
The Prime Minister last night ruled out any possibility of the Director General of MI5, Sir Antony Duff, or other members of the security service, appearing before a Commons select committee,
Mrs Thatcher was asked to explain the Government’s policy on allowing the Director General to appear before the Home Affairs Select Committee by Mr David Winnick one of its Labour members,
The committee has been considering a draft report on the Special Branch, but Labour members were demanding the reopening of its inquiry following the allegations in the Channel Four 20-20 vision film that the Special Branch was being used by MI5 in breach of the guidelines laid down on telephone interceptions. Labour members of the committee feel that Sir Antony should be brought before them, in camera if necessary, to enable their report to be completed properly.
The Opposition will be stepping up their demands for a Select Committee to be appointed to oversee the operation of telephone tapping and to make the security service answerable to Parliament for the first time, by amendments to the committee stage of the bill on telephone tapping.
Courier Mail, May 11th, 1985
Patricia Morgan, ‘The MI5 Spy who had a conscience’
The gardens around the moated ruins of 14th century Scotney Castle, in Kent, are among the most romantic in England. Ex-spy Cathy Massiter, now a trainee gardener, is happily at work there. At 37, she is through with espionage. For the rest of her life she intends to cultivate only things that flourish in the open. “”I am extremely relieved that I am not sitting in prison,” says the young woman whose obedience to her conscience, and not the Official Secrets Act, has made her notorious. An intelligence officer for 13 years, she spoke out recently because she could no longer be part of the phone-tapping abuses of MI5 which were in contravention of its own charter. She became deeply disturbed over the thousands of people being put on file without being remotely subversive, including Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) leaders, trade unionists, civil liberties people and even a pressure group for the homeless. “”What has happened has made all the risks worthwhile,” she now says. The political storm that blew up over what was the third successive security leak to embarrass Whitehall has been reverberating ever since. Cathy Massiter was convinced she would follow Sarah Tisdall, the civil servant jailed for six months last year for publicly divulging Defence Secretary Michael Heseltine’s secret date for arrival of cruise missiles. Then top civil servant, Clive Ponting, was charged under the Official Secrets Act for leaking facts over the Falklands Belgrano affair, but acquitted. Following that Cathy announced her bombshell. “”It had begun to seem to me that what the security service was being asked to do was to provide information on a party political basis. It was tapping phones and using undercover agents to satisfy politicians demands for intelligence on the peace movements.” The service’s code of conduct requires it to be kept absolutely free of political bias or influence. Lord Denning laid down that the “”security service should be used for one purpose only, the defence of the realm”. She went to her superiors, first to head of section, then assistant director, and finally the personnel branch, complaining that she could see MI5 giving in to persistent political pressure. “”I was told to consult a psychiatrist,” she explained on a TV program which aired her exposure to a disturbed nationwide audience and an embarrassed Government. The “”shrink” she saw had a security clearance to deal with the personal problems of MI5 officers. “”They were not really concerned about my mental health or they would not have let me carry on working, but the upshot of it all was that they made it very clear that I had to go,” she said. “”I had already decided to resign anyway and had told them so.” The Government allowed her retraining facilities, and within a few months she will finish her gardening course at Scotney Castle. “”I have not got the faintest idea what the future holds in store for me,” she told me, answering my questions through Geoffrey Seed, co-producer of 20/20, the TV program which unleashed the MI5 bombshell. She has refused a deluge of requests for interviews. Apart from the fact that she is still bound by the Official Secrets Act, she has said and done what she set out to say and do. She did not even seek the TV exposure. Geoffrey Seed and the other co-producer, Claudia Milne, found her. Like many a secret, it emerged innocently. There had been a letter published in the magazine New Scientist about the pressures on spies _ in this case relating to Michael Bettaney, who is now serving a long term for trying to give secrets to the Russians. Already deeply troubled, Cathy Massiter wrote a letter to the magazine saying, “”in the course of my own career I became increasingly at odds with myself about the nature of the work and its justifications”. The alert 20/20 team scented a story. “”We met her in July, 1984, and it was October before we did our first bit of film. We had many meetings but we could not put pressure on her. The risks of prison were very real,” explained Seed. Both he and his partner, Claudia Milne, are married, each with three children, and neither relished a spell in prison either. They are in their mid-30s. Cathy Massiter is a deeply serious woman, with an expression of serenity that seems to suggest a contemplative religious order, rather than the world of espionage. She is in fact very devout and is a deaconess of the Church of England. She took an English degree at London University and after graduating in 1968 did some social work in Liverpool and was finally a university librarian when MI5 recruited her, in 1970. In 1981 she was put in charge of surveillance of CND, even though the organisation had been taken off MI5’s list of subversive organisations. “”It was presented as more than ever necessary that we had to be able to answer very precisely whatever questions we were asked about CND and its subversive penetration, which meant the study had to be closer than it certainly would otherwise have been,” she said. The upshot was that MI5 got one of its agents, Harry Newton, a lecturer in trade union law and a life-long activist with Left-wing political groups, to join CND in 1982. Newton, who died least year, filed regular reports on the activities of CND headquarters, among them the opinion that Monsignor Bruce Kent, the general secretary, was a “”Crypto communist”. “”I saw no evidence to support this view,” said Cathy Massiter. She sympathises with some CND ideas but is against its arguments for unilateral nuclear disarmament and has never been a member. Monsignor Kent has subsequently denied being any kind of communist, Crypto or otherwise, and said MI5 overpaid Newton for his snooping. It bothered Massiter when the material MI5 was gathering was passed to a counter-propaganda unit, known as DS19, set up by Defence Secretary, Michael Heseltine, in March 1983, to combat CND’s unilateralist line. She felt the instructions to her by her superiors to pass non-classified information to a political body breached MI5’s code. Shortly after DS19 received the MI5 report, she was told MI5 would strongly favor the application of a tap to the phone of a communist target in CND. It bothered her that Home Secretary Leon Brittan, then authorised the tap, although he had said the campaign to change the Government’s thinking on nuclear disarmament was an entirely legitimate activity, which did not fall within the concerns of the security services. The phone tapped was that of John Cox, vice-president of CND and a member of the Communist Party, she said in the TV program. She questioned whether Cox met the proper criteria for phone tapping. “”We knew from our coverage of the Communist Party that he was not getting up to anything in CND,” she said. Under its charter, MI5’s domestic surveillance should be limited to subversives _ defined as those who threaten the State or seek to undermine Parliamentary democracy. Information was also obtained through tapping CND chairman Joan Ruddock. “”It was fully recognised that she had no subversive affiliation but now she was chairman they wanted a file opened,” she said. “”The problem of a category to fit Mrs Ruddock was solved when she gave an interview to a Soviet journalist based in London. The journalist was actually a KGB officer. Joan Ruddock did not know that, but it provided the ground for recording her as a contact of a hostile intelligence which was ridiculous.” Many other names of phone-tap victims spilled forth from Massiter’s exposure, which was backed up by another MI5 officer, whose identity has remained a secret. Barbara Egglestone, national organiser of Christian CND was bugged, so was Larry Goslin, general secretary of the National Council of Civil Liberties, Patricia Hewitt, former NCCL general secretary and now press and broadcasting officer to Opposition leader, Neil Kinnock. The other former MI5 agent said trade unionist’s phones were regularly tapped. Miners’ leader Arthur Scargill used to shout abuse at his “”listeners” during the 70s. His deputy Mick McGahey’s phone was bugged, too, but Mrs McGahey’s interminable chatter to friends and relatives had to be endured to discover information about him. Cathy Massiter was ordered to spread her investigation from CND’s national organisation to its regional structure and attended a series of Special Branch conferences. “”I think the Special Branch were confused about what we wanted. I’d get up and say we were only interested in real subversives. Then I’d speak to them later and say “well in fact we’d like quite a bit more than that’. “”It is impossible to say how many files there are on CND members who are not subversive but there are certainly thousands of them around the country. MI5 itself has 200 or 300 files on CND members who are not subversive under official definition.” The Housing Pressure Group shelter was monitored. And a new task was looking at graduate trainees starting work at the BBC, as well as any journalists in politically sensitive posts. Harriet Harman, a Labor MP who was also bugged, demanded information in a stormy debate in the Commons. But the Home Secretary has stuck to the line that authorisation of security surveillance is never denied or affirmed. Massiter is the only one to have gone public from inside MI5 while remaining in Britain. Peter Wright did it last year, but from the safe distance of Australia. The abuses she exposed were well aired during Commons debates on a Bill which creates a new offence of unauthorised tapping, establishes a tribunal to which aggrieved persons can take complaints and provides for unlimited damages if their complaints hold up. It now has to go to the Lords and could be law within months. As for Cathy Massiter she is taking stock of her own life. “”All I regret are the wasted years,” she says. “”From a personal point of view I am gratified the program has been taken very seriously in high places. “”It is wonderful to be free of the double life. When you are a spy you can never tell people what you do. You can’t say “I’m spying on the peace movement’. I am completely relieved I am no longer in MI5. “”But the way public attention has been focused on the problems that existed and still exist in MI5, and especially the scrutiny of phone tapping, makes the risks I ran under the Official Secrets Act worthwhile.” CATHY Massiter . . . out in the cold. It is wonderful to be free of the double life. I’m completely relieved. SCOTNEY Castle, where ex-spy Cathy Massiter works as a gardener.
The Guardian, May 22nd, 1985
Paul Keel, ”Whitewash’ claims on special branch / Criticism of report by Commons home affairs committee’
A House of Commons committee which gave a clean bill of health yesterday to the activities of the police special branch was last night being accused of a whitewash by civil liberties spokesmen. Labour members of the inquiry team dissociated themselves from its findings.
The home affairs committee, which began its investigations into the special branch last November, concluded in its report yesterday that there were no grounds for public anxiety. It suggested that recent fears about the activities of such police officers in the areas of political and industrial disputes were due to a basic misunderstanding of the role of the special branch.
Presenting the report at tbe House of Commons yesterday, the committee’s chairman, Sir Edward Gardner, Conservative MP for Fylde, was clearly aware of the criticism which would greet the report. ‘This inquiry has not been abortive. It is not a whitewash, it was never intended to be a whitewash. It was intended to be and was an earnest and active inquiry into the special branch.‘
But the four Labour members of the committee, who produced a minority report calling for an independent investigation into the role of the special branch, said that their seven Conservative colleagues on the committee had never seriously sought to examine the issue.
One of the Labour members, Mr David Winnick, MP for Walsall North, said that the committee’s decision not to take evidence from individual special branch officers had seriously inhibited its inquiry. Two others, Miss Clare Short (Birmingham Ladywood) and Mr Robin Corbett (Erdington) complained that the committee had refused to take evidence in several cases where allegations had been made of the special branch exceeding its guidelines.
Miss Short said that these included people involved in trade union, political and peace activities, such as Mrs Madeline Haig, from Sutton Coldfield, who was the subject of inquiries by West Midlands special branch after she wrote to a local newspaper protesting at the siting of cruise missiles in Britain.
Sir Edward acknowledged yesterday that his committee had been restricted in its inquiries by the need not to disclose anything which might damage national security.
But, he said, it was worth repeating the words of Mr Leon Brittan, the Home Secretary, who had told the committee that it was the individual cases where something went wrong that tended to come to the public’s attention: ‘But what is less well known is the success of the special branches. It cannot be known, because it cannot be proclaimed.
‘When hundreds of innocent people are saved from a bomb because of the information that the special branch have obtained, which enables them to step in. before the bomb actually explodes, that is something that I cannot talk about and the special branch officers cannot talk about. ‘However it happens, and it happens frequently. There are many people in this country who are alive but who would be dead if the special branch did not exist.’
But Sir Edward’s observations failed to convince the opposition parties in the Commons yesterday or critics outside the House, Mr Neil Kinnock, the Labour leader, accused the Consevative majority on the committee of a copout and said their inquiries had failed to answer any of the questions, including the essential one of how the special banch defined subversion. ‘We still stick with the idea that if you organise a strike you can be held to be subversive and investigated by the special branch.‘
Mr Alan Beith, the Liberal Chief whip and MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed, said the committee’s findings were complacent and unconvincing. ‘the committee’s report has failed to tackle the key problem of controlling the special branch – that is, how to ensure that they are properly accountable whilst still being able to carry out their essential work.’
The National Council for Civil Liberties said that the committee’s report was meaningless because it had specifically excluded from its enquiries special branch work dealing with the security service and it had excluded individual complaints.
Ms Marie Staunton, the NCCL’s legal officer, said last night: ‘The committee received disturbing evidence that the special branch kept unnecessary records on local MPs, councillors, members of CND and Friends of the Earth.
‘In order to reassure the public about personal privacy and ensure an efficient special branch, the Government should set up a commission of persons with security clearance to carry out an inquiry into these matters similar to that completed in South Australia.’
The Guardian, May 22nd, 1985
Paul Keel, ‘MP’s split on restricted special branch review / Results of investigation by Commons’ home affairs committee’
The bounds of national security restricted from the start MPs’ inquiries into the activities of the police special branch, the Commons committee on home affairs says in the introduction to its report.
Within such strict limits – as the Conservative majority on the committee described their terms of reference, and which their Labour colleagues complained had defeated the object of the exercise – the inquiry set out to examine the grounds for suspicions that the special branch persecuted harmless citizens for political reasons, acted in nefarious ways to assist the security services, and was a threat to civil liberties.
In their majority report yesterday the Conservative members concluded that many of the suspicions derived from a serious misunderstanding about the nature and purpose of the work carried out by the 43 divisions of the Special branch in England and Wales.
As defined by Home Office guidelines, the report noted that the special branch operated in two areas; the fight against subversion and terrorism and the job of helping to preserve public order. Both functions involved the gathering of information likely to assist these objectives.
On public order, the committee said that the special branch did not concern itself with opinions of individuals or with the merits of any particular industrial or political dispute. It accepted evidence from the Home Secretary and the Association of Chief Police Officers that the sole object of such inquiries was to gather intelligence about the necessary levels of policing and whether there were any persons who would seek to exploit disputes for subversive purposes.
‘We are satisfied that such public concern as may exist about special branch investigations in relation to public order is unfounded, and we hope that the clear statement of the functions of special branches in this matter contained in the (Home Office) guidelines will dispel it,’ the report said.
As for subversion, the definition provided by Lord Harris of Greenwich in 1975 – then a Labour government minister at the Home Office – remained adequate to outline those who would be the proper subjects of investigation.
Such persons were those ‘threatening the safety or well-being of the state,’ and ‘intending to undermine or overthrow parliamentary democracy by political, industrial or violent means.’ The report concluded that it agreed with the Home Secretary, Mr Leon Brittan, that the definition stood the test of time.
The guidelines were sufficiently narrow- not to encourage unnecessary inquiries and broad enough to enable the security of the realm to be adequately protected.
On the keeping of special branch records, the report expressed confidence that individual police forces would – if only for reasons of convenience and efficiency – delete old and irrelevant material about individuals. Referring to evidence from the Home Secretary, it stated: ‘We accept his view that there is no point in a special branch dealing with a lot of inaccurate and wasteful material.’
With the caveat that evidence had been restricted and that the committee reserved its right to return to matters relating to the special branch, the report said: ‘We are satisfied, on the basis of the evidence which we have received, that the special branches of the police forces in England Wales do not justify public anxiety.’
ln a minority report, the Labour members oalled for a change in the present definition of ‘subversive,’ saying it gave too wide a discretion to the special branch. They also called for a ‘thorough inquiry into the practices and records of the special branch’ to be conducted by an independent commission of inquiry.
Complaining about the overall lack of parliamentary scrutiny of the security services in Britain, the minority report said: ‘We do strongly recommend that the work of the special branches should be debated from time to time in the House, and although some doubt was at the time expressed on grounds of security about the present inquiry, no one has now argued that the country has been endangered as a result of our investigations.’
The Guardian, June 15th, 1985
Harold Jackson, ‘Big Brother’s invisible men / Focus on the work of the Special Branch of the police’
The Home Office revelation of the size of police records should hardly have come as a surprise to any MP in the habit of reading the fine print. The inexorable expansion of police files has been implicit in a number of official reports over the past decade.
Eight years ago, the Callaghan government disclosed that some 24 million people were already listed in the computer system, with many more waiting to be entered from the old files. The House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, however, was unwilling to explore what goes on record during the first Parliamentary investigation ever mounted into the operations of the Special Branch – Britain’s most controversial compilers of personal data.
In the words of the committee’s chairman, Sir Edward Gardner, ‘It is the policy of this committee not to investigate specific cases’ – a decision which seems to have stopped the inquiry studying a substantial body of evidence from witnesses who believe the Special Branch may not be as well-ordered as the Conservative majority on the committee judged it.
There has been a steady flow of incidents down the years suggesting that the secret records kept by the branch can contain highly inaccurate or questionable details of people’s political, trade union, and other legitimate activites. A few were aired by MPs on the committee, but the bulk remain in the files of local authorities and private groups.
It has been estimated that, in addition to the main police records, there are some 2.5 million individual files in the Branch’s own system. These records not only include such factual information as name, address, age and physical description, but data officially defined as ‘intelligence’ – suspect activities, known associates, and other less checkable nuggets.
For most of the century it has been in existence, of course, the Special Branch kept its records on bits of paper, with a card index cross-reference. Many of its files are still in that form but, like the rest of the world, computerised records (now called databanks) are taking over.
Nearly all information about the computer system is as highly classified as are the details of its contents. In the words of the head of Scotland Yard’sSpecial Branch, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Hewett, ‘We put a lot of people on record. They are not all computerised although we use the computer a great deal.’
The Police Review commented of one system: ‘Much of the information is valid intelligence. A substantial proportion is unchecked bunkum.’ The former Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall, Mr JC Alderson, said that he had discovered Special Branch files on local MPs, councillors, anti-nuclear power campaigners, members of CND, and of Friends of the Earth.
‘I found that officers, often with the best of intentions, had made records of things about people which I thought were totally unnecessary. They had nothing to do with criminal affairs at all but in their view were sufficiently of interest to the Special Branch and probably the security services to warrant being recorded. A very high proportion of the records were either out-of-date, useless or of the kind one would not want to keep.’
The Police National Computer can be accessed from about 500 terminals installed in police stations throughout the country. It allows all police forces to call up the index to the five million personal files of the Criminal Records Office, the index to 3.5 million sets of fingerprints, the details of every vehicle in the country with 35 million owner’s names and addresses, the list of 350,000 stolen and suspect vehicles, of 300,000 disqualified drivers, and of some 110,000 wanted and missing persons.
The Lindop Committee on Data Protection reported that the Home Office had acknowledged that the CRO records ‘were not entirely accurate or complete.’ The committee commented that ‘the linking of factual personal information about an identifiable individual with speculative data about criminal activity could pose a grave threat to that individual’s interests.’
And there is unquestionable evidence that this has happened. The police computer system allows what is known as ‘flagging,’ through which comments can be entered into the national vehicle register or other records. The Lindop Committee found, for example, that one car record included a note that the vehicle was believed to have been used in a bank robbery. It is not clear how authentic such information must be to get on to the file.
Much will depend on the judgment of the police collator, the officer responsible for processing and recording data for the files. In addition to normal criminal information – arrests, convictions, and the like – there is also the collation of ‘occurrences.’ This covers almost anything a constable may enter into his notebook, regardless of its immediate relevance.
The decision to include the encoded date of birth on British driving licences was in the interest of police computerisation since it is the key to the data bank files. There may be 10,000 John Smiths, but not many of them were born on the same day. The moment one of them produces his driving licence there is enough information on it to allow a patrolling policeman to call up his file.
The centralisation of the files and the capacity of the police computer to carry out multi-factor searches has significantly changed the nature of the records. It is now possible to ask for the record of any fair-haired male of 26 who owns a green Chrysler registered in Liverpool. Within moments the inquirer will have been offered a selection of records with whatever flagged notes may have been added to them.
And the quality of these comments is impossible to guess. The observation that bill Brown was probably the wheels man in a recent smash-and-grab could be the shrewd observation of a seasoned detective. But what is one to make of the notation in one of the Devon files that the subject ‘had lunch with Wedgwood Benn’?
There have been enough authenticated cases of misinformation to raise legitimate worries about what may be on file about individuals. The most startling in recent years was probably that of Ms Jan Martin, listed in the files as an associate of the Baader-Meinhoff terrorist group. She was only able to discover this because her father was a former chief superintendent at Scotland Yard.
It eventually transpired that the note was based on the supposed resemblance of her husband to one of the German terrorists, reported to the Dutch police by a witness in an Amsterdam restaurant. Without her father’s influence, presumably, she would never have been able to discover what had been recorded against her.
According to the Home Office, there are now 1,249 Special Branch officers in England and Wales, roughly six times as many as there were 20 years ago. But they are not members of one force – each of the 52 separate police forces in Britain has its own branch. By far the largest is that of the Metropolitan Police which has been given specific responsibility for dealing with Irish terrorism.
The Met’s Special Branch was the first to be formed in 1883, as a response to the Fenian campaign for Irish independence. Two years later it became part of the Criminal Investigation Department and was limited to between 15 and 20 men. That had swelled to well over 100 by the end of the second world war and to 225 by the time Harold Wilson became Prime Minister.
Now it has 379 officers, and there is a Special Branch unit in each of the capital’s 24 police districts. The greatest proportion of the officers, according to their commander, regard their membership of the branch as their career and will stay in it for their whole service. At any given time, 73 of them are assigned to Heathrow or the Port of London and another 67 are acting as armed bodyguards. The Irish Squad numbers about 70 members and there are some 100 officers in the Anti-Terrorist Squad. The current cost of the Met’s Special Branch operations is about pounds 15 million.
Government guidelines require each Special Branch to gather information about threats to public order; assist the security services to combat espionage and sabotage; provide information about extremists and terrorists; keep restricted diplomats (mainly Soviet) and foreign officials within bounds; protect the royal family and other public figures; maintain surveillance at airports and seaports; deal with immigration and naturalisation inquiries; and examine all incidents involving firearms and explosives.
The relationship with the security services – principally MI5 – is both obscure and complex. One of the constitutional oddities of British military intelligence is that its officers have no official status: they can no more execute warrants or arrest suspects than can any other citizen. Officers of the Special Branch, as sworn constables, have to do that for them.
It is acknowledged that MI5 helps in the training of Special Branch men. Mr Alderson told MPs: ‘The security services from time to time would run courses for the provincial forces.’ But there have been repeated allegations of a far closer relationship. In part this stems from the official requirement that the Special Branch deal with ‘subversion’ – an ill-defined concept which requires highly-political decisions and touches heavily on civil liberties.
The official notion of subversion is contained in the Home Office guidelines. They say that it comprises activities which ‘threaten the safety or well-being of the state, and which are intended to undermine or overthrow parliamentary democracy by political, industrial, or violent means.’ The imprecision of this formula is evident in trying to decide whether the ‘well-being’ of the state is threatened, or whether a given action is ‘intended’ to achieve an undesirable aim.
It is not at all clear how this definition evolved and it has been the subject of constant criticism by lawyers and others. It sprang, apparently unbidden, from Lord Harris of Greenwich (then a junior Home Office minister) during a House of Lords debate in February 1975. The significant departure from what had previously been taken as the norm was that Lord Harris omitted any reference to breaking the law.
In 1963 Lord Denning had described subversion as ‘contemplating the overthrow of the government by unlawful means’ but this rather precise formulation has been steadily eroded over the past 20 years. Not only has its confinement to illegal activities been dropped, but there has been a growing tendency to elide the distinction between subversion and terrorism. A clue to the reason for the official blurring may have been offered by Mr Leo Abse during a Commons debate on nuclear power. ‘As a lawyer,’ he said, ‘I know of no crime of ‘ subversion ‘ in English law.’
For most of the century, in fact, the Clerks’ table at the House of Commons automatically rejected members’ questions about the branch and all parliamentry discussion was virtually taboo until Mr Robin Cook, the Labour MP for Edinburgh Central, finally managed to secure an adjournment debate in 1977. It was the first time in the history of the branch that Parliament had ever been allowed to consider its activities. Mr Cook secured another debate the following year, but both tended to raise more questions than they answered.
This secrecy survives in spite of the select committee’s unprecedented hearings. In an extraordinary exchange during the evidence, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Hewett flatly refused to give MPs the slightest information about the Scotland Yard files.
Ms Clare Short MP, who had raised the point, commented ‘I am not asking for the exact magnitude or an exact number. I am asking is it 100,000 or 10,000?’ Mr Hewett responded: ‘I do not think it is in the public interest to give the number of records that we keep.’
Some – but far from all – of the mystery has been lifted by academic and libertarian researchers and some of the information was put on record in the select committee proceedings. But there is still a deep reluctance to offer any but the most grudging information.
The concerns raised by this lack of information tend to be heightened when the Government occasionally lifts a tiny corner of the curtain. In December. the Home Secretary released details of new rules governing the police use of surveillance equipment. His announcement included the comment that ‘the criteria for the authorisation and use of listening devices and of certain types of visual surveillance are considerably tightened’. Yet his predecessors had repeatedly assured Parliament that all was well and that Special Branch officers were, in the words of Mr Merlyn Rees, ‘accountable in the same way as any other police officer’.
Many critics find it hard to understand how accountability can be ensured when there is so little information on what an officer is accountable for. As Home Secretary seven years ago, Mr Rees told the Commons, ‘The Special Branch collects information on those I think cause problems for the state,’ but, like previous and subsequent holders of the office, resolutely declined to elaborate.
Last year Mr Leon Brittan gave an equally gnomic answer, declaring that ‘There is a variety of ways in which the safety of the state may be threatened and attempts made to overthrow parliamentary democracy, Tactics which are not in themselves unlawful can be used with the aim of subverting our democratic system of government.’
This official resistance to releasing information has obliged researchers to tum to overseas institutions known to be based on the British model – notably the police forces of Canada and Australia. They have not offered a reassuring picture. In both oases Royal Commissions appointed to examine the operation of the security services uncovered startling malpractices.
The McDonald Commission was set up by the Trudeau government to investigate allegations against the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the federal force which operates in eight of the country’s 10 provinces, the steady expansion in the range of the security branch’s surveillance led the federal cabinet to draw up tighter operational guidelines. The security service director responded with a confidential memorandum to his senior staff commenting ‘while at first glance the ingredients of our guidelines appear to be strict legal precepts, they are not.’
What followed was described by the Royal Commission as ‘a breakdown in the rule of law.’ Security branch officers carried out 47 illegal break-ins, either to examine files or install unauthorised listening devices. There were 94 established cases of mail interception and other instances of unauthorised use of the personal records stored in government information banks. In the words of the report, ‘the practice of law-breaking became institutionalised within the RCMP.’
The government took draconian action, immediately abolishing the security branch and replacing it with a new civilian agency.
Certainly the Australian Royal Commission’s results were well in the same tradition. The South Australian Special Branch was administered by a former chief constable from Yorkshire, Mr Harold Salisbury, and used methods formally acknowledged to be ‘influenced by the security services of the United Kingdom.’
The branch turned out to have been secretly compiling voluminous files on senior members of the Australian Labour Party at local and national level, a number of the state’s current and former governors, members of the Supreme Court and other judges, trade union officials, advocates of divorce law reform. civil libertarians, and a huge range of others.
There were 41,000 names in the card index and dossiers containing information which Mr Justice White described as ‘scandalously inaccurate, irrelevant to security purposes, and outrageously unfair to hundreds, perhaps thousands of loyal and worthy citizens.’ The surveillance had been undertaken because Mr Salisbury defined subversive activities as ‘a deliberate attempt to weaken public confidence in the government and/or the constitution’ – a formula briskly dismissed as ‘nonsensical’ in one of the subsequent judicial reports.
But, just before he was dismissed, the South Australilan police commissioner offered an even more alarming interpretation of his official role in an interview with the state’s premier, Don Dunstan. Mr Salisbury told the premier that the Special Branch ‘had duties which I consider to the Crown and to the law, not to any political party or elected government.’ Justice Roma Mitchell described it as a statement which ‘suggests an absence of understanding of the constitutional system of South Australia or, for that matter, of the United Kingdom.’
The Guardian, July 13th, 1985
Tom Sharratt and David Pallister, ‘Council suspects MI5 of raids / Manchester council’s police monitoring committee claims illegal state activities may have occured’
MI5 or the Special Branch may have been responsible for break-ins at the offices of police research units set up by Manchester City Council and the Greater London Council, it was claimed yesterday.
A meeting of Manchester council’s police monitoring committee was told by the chairman, Mr Anthony McCardell: ‘I personally believe it is possible – it might even be probable – that there is some state agency involved.’
Personnel from both units are connected with the inquiry set up by Manchester council into allegations of police violence against demonstrators during a visit to Manchester University students’ union by the Home Secretary, Mr Leon Brittan, on March 1. Documents related to the inquiry were apparently the burglars’ main target.
The units were set up to research police activities for the councils’ police committees. They were a response to growing demands for more police accountability to local authorities.
The first break-in happened on June 25, between 9 pm and 10 pm at the London unit’s sixth floor offices in county hall.
Mr Tony Bunyan, the deputy director of the unit and a member of the Manchester inquiry, returned to the office at 10 pm to find the lights on and an internal fire door off the latch.
Mr Bunyan found that the key to a filing cabinet had been stolen as well as his notebook of the inquiry’s public hearings. The cabinet held material concerning matters outside London. The notebook reappeared in another office of the unit three days later.
The Manchester unit, on the fourth floor of St James’ Building in the city centre, was ransacked the following night. It has given administrative support to the inquiry.
Mr Steven Wright, the director told the committee that the door had been forced and drawers smashed open. An inquiry file containing the transcripts of court statements relating to the events of March I had been moved, and pounds 1 of tea money was taken.
Mr Bunyan said last night: ‘I believe that whoever it was was probably looking for the private statements which have been made to our inquiry and the photographs that were taken by the students.’
None of these have been shown to the police inquiry into the incident headed by a 12-man team from Avon and Somerset police.
The Guardian, July 15th, 1985
Richard Norton-Taylor, ‘Unions challenge security ruling / Civil Service unions question definition of ‘subversion”
The new definition of subversion accepted by Mrs Thatcher gives too much scope to the security services, particularly by encouraging them to keep surveillance on trade unionists, Civil Service union leaders have told the Government.
In a letter to Mr Leon Brittan, the Home Secretary, Mr Peter Jones, secretary of the Council of Civil Service Unions, says that the definition ‘provides too ready an excuse for the security services to intrude into the daily lives of trade unionists in a way more attuned to a police state than to a western democracy.’
Under guidelines revealed in a written parliamentary answer just before the Easter recess, Mrs Thatcher said that a subversive group would be defined as one ‘whose aims are to undermine or overthrow parliamentary democracy .. by political, industrial, or violent means.’
Though this form of words is used by the Special Branch and in the Government’s Interception of Communications Bill, it is significantly broader than the one proposed in the 1982 Security Commission report on which Mrs Thatcher says she based the guidelines covering employees in the public sector.
The commission referred to only ‘the proliferation of new subversive groups of the extreme left and the extreme right (mainly the former) whose aim is to overthrow democratic parliamentary government by violent or other unconstitutional means.’
Civil Service unions are concerned over the guidelines’ reference to industrial action. Trade union activities are normally a peaceful and perfectly legal method of representation, Mr Jones says in his letter to
The Government has defended its definition by referring to a similar form of words used in a speech by Lord Harris, then a Labour Home Office minister, in February, 1965. Lord Harris, was making an ex parte statement unconnected with any proposed legislative or administrative change, says Mr Jones.
‘We are mystified, therefore, as to how this apparently off-the-cuff, isolated, statement has come to be elevated into an important working definition, which guides the security services in their day-to-day work in this delicate and controversial area.’
The Guardian, July 22nd, 1985
David Pallister, ‘Policemen ‘persecute students who protested against Brittan’ / Inquiry into police action during Manchester University demonstration against visiting Home Secretary’
Students who demonstrated against a visit by the Home Secretary, Mr Leon Brittan, have been harassed and threatened by a group of policemen, it is claimed.
Allegations of violent police behaviour during the demonstration at Manchester University students’ union, in which 33 people were arrested and 40 injured, have led to an internal police investigation and an independent panel of inquiry set up by Manchester council’s police monitoring committee.
A number of students have made private statements to the panel headed by Mr John Platts-Mills, QC, claiming that they have been stopped repeatedly on the streets by policemen who make veiled threats based on information about their private lives and political opinions.
Different statements, from students unknown to each other, have mentioned in particular two plain clothes officers who drive a W registration red Ford Cortina.
One student says he was detained, stripped, assaulted and left naked in a cell for an hour, ostensibly for a drugs search, and interrogated about his politics.
Mr Steven Shaw, a 22-year-old politics and philosophy student, has also had his house broken into; the only thing missing was material for his thesis on police technology. At one stage, on the advice of his tutor, Professor Roger Williams, he was provided with safe accommodation on the university’s Whitworth park campus, paid for from the university registrar’s special fund.
These events coincided with two suspicious burglaries at Manchester and London council offices where documents relating to the students’ inquiry have been tampered with. Last week, the chairman of Manchester’s police monitoring committee, Mr Anthony McCardell, said he could not rule out the involvement of M15 or the special branch.
Mr Shaw went to the demonstration on Friday, March 1, to protest about Mr Brittan’s immigration policy and the policing of the miners’ strike. The next Monday, at a large students’ union meeting, Mr Shaw volunteered to liaise with the council police committee’s support unit to set up a defence group for those arrested and to discuss ways of holding an inquiry.
The next afternoon he returned to his home in Oldham to find the door smashed and a file of research material missing. His stereo and television were untouched. The file was marked ‘police’ on the front and ‘police technology and criticisms of’ on the back.
That evening he gave details of the burglary to Professor Williams, Mr Steven Wright, head of the police committee support unit, and to the students’ union executive.
Two days later, Mr Shaw was stopped in his car by uniformed police officers who claimed he was speeding. It was the first of five similar incidents to happen over the next nine weeks.
At first he refused to accept the form requiring him to produce his car documents and was taken to a police station. He says the desk sergeant told him: ‘You’re the one making allegations about your thesis.’
Mr Shaw says: ‘I had definitely not reported it to the police. Someone must have told them about the meeting at the union executive.’
Mr Shaw says he was asked about his role in the defence group, why he had gone on the demonstration and about his political affiliations. He was refused a solicitor and a doctor and was then instructed to take his clothes off by the younger of the two officers who said they suspected him of carrying drugs. The search included an anal inspection he says.
He complained but was now allowed to dress. ‘It was at this stage that I got punched in the stomach by the younger one and slapped in the face. They both went outside and took the clothes with them. I was left naked and alone for about an hour.’
This was followed by another 90 minutes of questions. Just before he was released one of the officers said he knew the timetable of Mr Shaw’s final examinations and suggested that he may not make it to them. ‘They said: ‘When you are walking along the street, you could be stopped at any time’.’
Mr Shaw feared for his safety and, on the advice of his solicitor. left Manchester for his parents’ home in London. He returned to the city last month for exams and Professor Williams arranged the secure accommodation. Walking near the students’ union on June 7, he says a uniformed officer got out of a police van, walked over to him and said: ‘Oh, so you’re living at Whitworth Park now, are you?’
Mr Shaw’s experiences, and those of other students who have remained anonymous, prompted Mr Platts-Mills to refer to their cases at the opening of the independent inquiry on June 15.
He said that a number of students had been ‘so pursued, harried, harassed and beset’ that they had been unable to get on with their studies and had left Manchester.
Mr Platts-Mills said last night: ‘We have had firm and most unhappy evidence about interference with students by police. At least three were advised by their student body and their professors to leave the university for a time in order to finish studying for their finals.
‘We have had confirming evidence about many of the allegations made to the Guardian and are well forward with preparing our report, which is to be published in October.’
Mr Shaw and the other students have decided not to make formal complaints to Manchester police or to the 12 officers from Avon and Somerset under their deputy chief constable, Mr John Reddington, who are carrying out the internal police inquiry into the demonstration. However it is expected that their stories will be included in the report of the council’s panel.
Mr Reddington said after consulting with Manchester:
‘We have not received any complaints of this nature. they should be made to the deputy chief constable of Manchester, who I am sure will take them seriously. But I can’t imagine why any policemen would want to do these things. It will certainly have no effect on my inquiry.’
United Press International, July 29th, 1985
Ed Lion, ‘British government wants IRA documentary pulled’
The government Monday urged the British Broadcasting Corp. to cancel a television documentary featuring an interview with a suspected leader of the outlawed Irish Republican Army, saying the show would aid terrorism.
In what media analysts called an unprecedented warning in peacetime, Home Secretary Leon Brittan told BBC officials the film, scheduled to air Aug. 7 as part of a series called ”Real Lives,” was ”contrary to the national interest.”
A government spokesman said Brittan told the television executives he did not ”wish to exercise the powers of censorship.”
Brittan also stressed ”in the strongest terms that … the program appeared to be giving succor to terrorist organizations by the opportunity for public advocacy of terrorist methods of a prominent member of the IRA,” the spokesman said.
Brittan said the film ”gave spurious legitimacy to the use of violence for political ends,” the spokesman said.
But Paul Hamann, the program’s producer, said the film was balanced and gave viewers insight into political strife in Northern Ireland, where the IRA is waging a guerrilla war to wrest the province from British control.
”It is a legitimate piece of reporting,” said Hamann. ”I don’t think anyone seeing the film would feel it is helpful to the IRA.”
The BBC said its 12-member board of governors would meet Tuesday to consider the request.
The government move came two weeks after Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher urged the media to voluntarily bar terrorists from obtaining publicity, and also followed her vow to ”condemn” the BBC if it screened interviews with the reputed IRA leader, Martin McGuinness.
The BBC is funded by a government tax on television users, but operates under a Royal Charter that assures its independence from the government and sets standards of fairness and balance in news reporting.
But the government has emergency powers to censor news reports in the interests of national security, as it did during the Falklands War against Argentina in 1982.
The program features an interview with McGuinness, who was convicted of IRA activities in Londonderry but is now a member of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA. He is an elected — but absentee – member of the Northern Ireland Assembly in Belfast which acts as a consulting body to help advise on policies in Northern Ireland.
Security sources believe he is the IRA’s chief of staff, but in the documentary McGuinness refuses to confirm or deny the allegation.
”I believe for me to talk about that issue, to elaborate on it, would be to give information to the Special Branch (a British police unit) and the British military intelligence who may be watching this program,” McGuinness says in the documentary.
The Guardian, August 6th, 1985
UK News in Brief: ‘Met special branch’s new head / Appointment of Simon Crawshaw as head of the Metropolitan Police Special Branch’
Home Office approval is expected this week for the appointment of Commander Simon Crawshaw as head of the Metropolitan Police Special Branch, the largest in the country. He will be promoted to Deputy Assistant Commissioner, writes Stephen Cook.
Mr Crawshaw is to take over from Deputy Assistant Commissioner Colin Hewett, head of the special branch since 1980, who was recently appointed to head the new National Drugs Intelligence Unit, set up by the Home Secretary, Mr Leon Brittan.
Mr Crawshaw, aged 42, took over the Anti-Terrorist Branch (C13) nine months ago. His latest move coincides with a plan for C13 andspecial branch to work more closely. In the past they have sometimes duplicated work and failed to share information.
The Guardian, August 19th, 1985
Leading Article: ‘Brigadier behind closed doors at the BBC / Row over vetting of broadcasting corporation staff’
The BBC seems determined to prove that, as far as its own affairs are concerned, any publicity is bad publicity. Just at the time when the Peacock committee (as its chairman hinted publicly in Edinburgh yesterday) seems poised to insert the commercial knife between the corporation’s public service shoulder-blades, the BBC has become accident-prone. First, of course, there was the disreputable saga of the on-off Real Lives documentary, whose worldwide fall-out has not yet been fully quantified. And now, displaying the unerring clumsiness of the walking wounded, the BBC is faced with the revelations about the brigadier in Room 105.
It is easy to respond with worldly wisdom when you read that behind the door of Room 105 in Broadcasting House there lurks Brigadier Ronnie Stonham, formerly of the Signals Regiment, single-handedly weeding out all pinko job applicants and making sure that the lefties don’t get promotion. Most state-financed broadcasting stations like to vet the political credentials of their journalists. Our own security services take a more than casual interest in appointments to senior journalistic posts (and not just in the BBC) especially among foreign correspondents. And, looking at it even more cynically, what kind of a thought police is it anyway that can turn up a mere eight cases – if that’s all there be – of political blocking in a period of 20 years among a staff of 30,000 people – and only two during the Thatcher years?
Easy to be worldly wise, but mistaken. You do not have to buy the full conspiracy version to sense that there is something pretty corrosive and hypocritical going on here. The tales of the brigadier don’t, in themselves, prove that the BBC’s independence, of which so much has been heard this month, is an entire sham. They do not justify the crude conclusion that Mr Leon Brittan, in his capacity as the boss of MI5 and the Special Branch, controls the whole staffing and policy of the corporation through a vetting system which extends from the governors down to anyone who has ever done a day’s work for the BBC. But they do expose the country’s principal broadcasting organisation to the charge that it has long connived in a degree of routine interference by an unaccountable and reactionary secret service that is fundamentally at odds with the principles of editorial independence and political pluralism.
One casualty of the latest revelations ought logically to be the gut belief, apparently held by all Conservative MPs, that the BBC is a nest of left-wing vipers. It is that belief which is impelling the Cabinet, through the mechanism of the Peacock inquiry, towards the fullscale destruction of the foundations on which the BBC stiil rests. The vetting revelation, however, shows that those foundations are very fragile. It further erodes the principle of editorial independence. A confident and united BBC stands some chance of resisting the government’s increasingly determined assault. But a divided and suspicious BBC is a target with very few defences.
The Guardian, August 22nd, 1985
Richard Norton-Taylor, ‘Secret vetting spreads its net far and wide / Screening of public sector staff by the security services’
Sixty-six thousand people working in the public sector or in state-owned companies, such as British Nuclear Fuels, know they have been vetted. But there are many more, including those in private firms, who are vetted by the security services without being told, inquiries have revealed.
The open admission that a person will be investigated is the crucial difference between the system known as positive vetting – to which senior officials in the Ministry of Defence or Foreign Office are subjected – and the more widespread ‘negative vetting’ which the BBC operates.
Positive vetting is a formal procedure, albeit open to abuse, with the subject asked to fill in a questionnaire about whether he or she has contacts with Communist, Fascist or Trotskyist organisations, and to give the names of referees.
Negative vetting is more discreet, and is used to investigate officials at a relatively low level in the Civil Service. It also covers trade unionists in the public sector and employees in British Telecom, the Civil Aviation Authority, the Post Office and companies, notably those involved in defence and energy supply.
M15, which has 500,000 names on its files, and the Special Branch report to the Government or the relevant employer in what is described as the ‘nothing known against routine’ if the subject of the investigation is cleared.
One error on the file can ruin a person’s career. Not only is he or she unaware of the investigation, there is no right of access to personal files to check their accuracy.
Lord Bethell, the writer on Eastern Europe and Conservative Euro-MP for Northwest London, spoke yesterday of how he had been the victim of a smear campaign by M15 in 1970. He said that his requests to see the security services to point out that allegations against him were untrue were met by a wall of silence.
Lord Bethell said that M15, had not properly checked out the information it was given about him. He called yesterday for legislation, similar to that in the United States to give individuals access to files held on them and to enable errors to be corrected.
Four years ago, Ms Jan Martin, a freelance film producer was told by the construction company, Taylor Woodrow, that she would not be welcome on their premises. According to Special Branch files, she had connections with the Baader-Meinhof gang.
This false allegation was based on information passed by a cafe-owner in Holland, where Ms Martin was on holiday. The cafe-owner mistook her husband for a member of the gang. The mistake on the Special Branch file was established by Ms Martin’s father, a former detective chief superintendent at Scotland Yard.
A Home Office circular instructs police forces to give information to the relevant ‘professional or public bodies’ about a range of individuals, including magistrates, dentists, nurses, those responsible for the care of children, and youth leaders. The information is supposed to be restricted to evidence of any criminal conviction.
Since April, vetting procedures have been backed up by sweeping new powers enabling ministers to weed out employees in ‘the public service,’ the UK Atomic Energy Authority, the Civil Aviation Authority, British Telecom, the Post Office, the police, and firms engaged on government contracts.
Mrs Thatcher said that the purge procedure would be extended to anyone who is a member of a Communist or Fascist organisation, or ‘of a subversive group, acknowledged as such by the minister, whose aims are to undermine or overthrow parliamentary democracy .. by political, industrial or violent means.’
This is a wider definition of subversive even than that proposed by the Security Commission. Civil servants, including senior officials, believe it could lead to vetting and purges based on narrow political criteria rather than on a genuine need to protect the security of the state.
Guardian Weekly, August 25th, 1985
‘The brigadier in Room 105’
THE BBC seems determined to prove that, as far as its own affairs are concerned, any publicity is bad publicity. Just at the time when the Peacock committee seems poised to insert the commercial knife between the corporation’s public service shoulder-blades, the BBC has become accident-prone. First, of course, there was the disreputable saga of the on-off Real Lives documentary, whose worldwide fall-out has not yet been fully quantified. And now, displaying the unerring clumsiness of the walking wounded, the BBC is faced with the revelations about the brigadier in Room 105.
It is easy to respond with wordly wisdom when you read that behind the door of Room 105 in Broadcasting House there lurks Brigadier Ronnie Stonham, formerly of the Signals Regiment, single-handedly weeding out all pinko job applicants and making sure that the lefties don’t get promotion. Most state-financed broadcasting stations like to vet the political credentials of their journalists. Our own security services take a more than casual interest in appointments to senior journalistic posts (and not just in the BBC), especially among foreign correspondents. And, looking at it even more cynically, what kind of a thought police is it anyway that can turn up a mere eight cases — if that’s all there be — of political blocking in a period of 20 years among a staff of 30,000 people — and only two during the Thatcher years?
Easy to be worldly wise, but mistaken. You do not have to buy the full conspiracy version to sense that there is something pretty corrosive and hypocritical going on here. The tales of the brigadier don’t, in themselves, prove that the BBC’s independence, of which so much has been heard this month, is an entire sham. They do not justify the crude conclusion that Mr Leon Brittan, in his capacity as the boss of MI5 and the Special Branch, controls the whole staffing and policy of the corporation through a vetting system which extends from the governors down to anyone who has ever done a day’s work for the BBC. But they do expose the country’s principal broadcasting organisation to the charge that it has long connived in a degree of routine interference by an unaccountable and reactionary secret service that is fundamentally at odds with the principles of editorial independence and political pluralism.
One casualty of the latest revelations ought logically to be the gut belief, apparently held by all Conservative MPs, that the BBC is a nest of left-wing vipers. It is that belief which is impelling the Cabinet, through the mechanism of the Peacock inquiry, towards the fullscale destruction of the foundations on which the BBC still rests. The vetting revelation, however, shows that those foundations are very fragile. It further erodes the principle of editorial independence. A confident and united BBC stands some chance of resisting the government’s increasingly determined assault. But a divided and suspicious BBC is a target with very few defences.